What we know about the Wren Collective

Texas group operates under the umbrella of California-based social and environmental justice reform nonprofit

SAN ANTONIO – The Wren Collective, the Texas group that has wielded significant influence on Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales during his time in office, operates under the umbrella of a California nonprofit, records obtained Wednesday by KSAT Investigates show.

This week, KSAT obtained hundreds of pages of communications between Wren Collective founder Jessica Brand — an Austin-based attorney — DA Joe Gonzales and his first assistant Christian Henricksen.

RELATED ON KSAT.COM: Take a closer look at the conversations between Bexar County DA’s Office & criminal justice reform group

The working relationship between the DA’s office and Brand, which dates back to at least January 2019, the same month Gonzales took office, had not been publicly acknowledged by the DA’s office until this week.

The Wren Collective formed in 2020, forfeited its tax certificate in 2022

Brand formed the Wren Collective as a for-profit limited liability company in February 2020, Texas Secretary of State records obtained Wednesday show.

The business address on file with the state matches Brand’s home address, a public records search reveals.

The formation paperwork was filed at least 13 months after Brand began advising Gonzales’ office on messaging, county records show.

The entity, however, forfeited its tax certificate in June 2022, Secretary of State records show.

The group, which touts itself online as a strategic advising firm, appears to operate .com and .org websites.

It is still listed on its .com website as an LLC, even though its tax certificate was forfeited more than 18 months ago.

The group’s .org website includes a link to donate to the group.

Clicking on the donate button, however, takes you to a PayPal account for Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs, a Calabasas, California-based nonprofit.

Nonprofit started as group promoting cultural exchanges between USA, USSR

Records from the State of California Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General show the evolution of Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs over the past 37 years.

The group was formed as a nonprofit in June 1987 in the state of Delaware under the name American-Soviet Film Initiative.

The entity, which was granted nonprofit status and recognized as a 501(c)(3) by the Internal Revenue Service in February 1988, sought to promote educational and cultural exchanges among citizens of the US and citizens of the then-Soviet Union through films and television programs, records show.

This intended promotion included “the development of opportunities to view Soviet films in the United States and American films in the Soviet Union through tours and exhibition screenings,” formation paperwork for the nonprofit shows.

The group, which appears to have operated out of Southern California for most of its existence, changed its name from American-Soviet Film Initiative to Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs (SEE) in the mid-1990s, tax records show.

The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.

Paperwork for the 1987 incorporation of the American-Soviet Film Initiative, now called Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs. (KSAT)

The group’s certificate of incorporation was amended in 1994 to state it intended to promote educational and cultural exchanges between citizens of the US and other countries and to take on charitable activities that promote world peace, help underprivileged children and promote environmental and cultural preservation, records show.

The nonprofit previously had a modest revenue, mostly from contributions and grants, totaling over $21 million, 2019 tax records show.

That figure has ballooned to over $73 million in revenue in recent years, federal tax paperwork shows.

SEE’s current website states it mission is to “empower, encourage, and catalyze projects so that we can collaborate and facilitate progressive change in areas of social and environmental justice.”

The Wren Collective is one of at least 100 projects listed on its website.

Reached by telephone Wednesday, an official for Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs told KSAT the group is the fiscal sponsor for the Wren Collective.

Fiscal sponsorship includes help with nonprofit management, bookkeeping services and start-up guidance, SEE’s website states.

The official told KSAT donations to SEE can be confidential, if the donor chooses so.

She did not have information on how Brand and other members of her team are compensated.

Brand did not respond to an email from KSAT seeking comment Wednesday.

Gonzales, during an appearance on KSAT’s Q&A Tuesday night, defended his working relationship with Brand, stating that she has provided messaging to his office in a volunteer capacity.

The messages, most of which were between Brand and Henricksen, included how to respond to major incidents in San Antonio including the October 2022 shooting of Erik Cantu by a San Antonio police officer and the 2022 investigation into migrants being flown from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard on chartered flights.

Read more reporting on the KSAT Investigates page.

About the Authors

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with 15 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter and cohost of the podcast Texas Crime Stories.

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