Eric O'Keefe

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Eric O'Keefe is a right-wing political operative with deep ties to the Koch brothers. O'Keefe is currently the director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth (WCFG). He was heavily involved in the Libertarian Party in the 1980s, worked to enact congressional term limits in the 1990s, and transitioned into a leader of the Tea Party movement in the late 2000s. His group, the Sam Adams Alliance, led to the founding of numerous tea party organizations, and also helped launch the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. He is married to Leslie Graves of the Lucy Burns Institute, publisher of Ballotpedia and Judgepedia.

O'Keefe is at the center of the 2014 "John Doe" criminal investigation of the campaign of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Wisconsin Club for Growth, and numerous other "dark money" groups.

Koch Wiki

The Koch brothers -- David and Charles -- are the right-wing billionaire co-owners of Koch Industries. As two of the richest people in the world, they are key funders of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on the Kochs include: Koch Brothers, Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity, American Encore, and Freedom Partners.

2013 Wisconsin Criminal Investigation into Illegal Campaign Coordination

Cap-Times-Dark money.jpg

In October 2013, O'Keefe broke a secrecy order and told the Wall Street Journal editorial board that he had been served with a subpoena in a "John Doe" investigation into possible campaign finance violations during Wisconsin's 2011 and 2012 recall elections, apparently in his capacity as chair of Wisconsin Club for Growth. The investigation is being conducted under Wisconsin's "John Doe" laws, which is similar to a grand jury investigation, and is being overseen by former federal prosecutor Francis Schmitz, who was once considered for a position as U.S. attorney by George W. Bush and who voted for Republican Governor Scott Walker.[1] The Journal's editorial board characterized the investigation as a "political speech raid." [2] [3]

O'Keefe Compares Criminal Investigation to Rape

In October 2014 while on a conservative talk radio show, O'Keefe compared the subpoena targets of the John Doe investigation to rape victims. As reported by the Wisconsin State Journal:

“I have read some about rape and I have talked about rape and I am saying this deliberately,” O’Keefe said. “The reactions that I got from the people I interviewed were similar to a rape victim.”
He said prosecutors “imposed a traumatic, unconstitutional abuse on people and told them you can’t talk to your colleagues, you can’t talk to your friends.”[4]

During the show, O'Keefe also called the Government Accountability Board "corrupt" and called the investigation "spying."[4]

WCFG Lawsuits Against John Doe Fail in Court

O'Keefe and WCFG filed several lawsuits seeking to end the John Doe probe. On February 10, 2014, they filed a suit with the U.S. District Court in Milwaukee claiming that "the probe violates their rights to free speech, free assembly and equal protection under the law" and seeking "to block prosecutors from continuing the John Doe probe, relieve O'Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth from having to cooperate with it, and order prosecutors to pay them compensatory damages for violating their constitutional rights."[5] On May 30, 2014, O'Keefe and WCFG filed a suit in the Waukesha County Circuit Court seeking to remove the Government Accountability Board, Wisconsin's elections and ethics agency, from the John Doe case.[6] On September 24, 2014, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the lawsuit to be thrown out, declaring that federal Judge Rudolph Randa never should have taken the case in the first place.[7]

Ties to Right-Wing Groups

Ties to the Koch Brothers

According to the Washington Post:

"Early in his libertarian days, O’Keefe became friendly with the Koch brothers, with whom he has joined in many battles, mainly through independent groups that the courts have empowered to raise unlimited money, often without having to identify their donors."[8]

More recently, O'Keefe was listed as a presenter at the June 2010 Koch network meeting in Aspen, Colorado. He sits on the board of the Koch's Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) and was formerly on the board of directors of the Cato Institute, a Koch-founded libertarian think tank..[9] SAM's internship recruitment page was connected to Koch Industries through the Charles G. Koch Summer Fellow Program. The program was administered through the IHS and the State Policy Network and featured on the IHS website.[10]

O'Keefe previously worked for Citizens for Congressional Reform, a project of David Koch's Citizens for a Sound Economy (the predecessor to Americans for Prosperity). He has also been featured at events funded by David Koch's Americans for Prosperity group.[11]

According to reporting by the Center for Media and Democracy, the Wisconsin Club for Growth, for which O'Keefe is a board member, "took in funds from some of the top Republican donors and Koch-connected dark money conduits in the country," including the Center to Protect Patient Rights and the Wellspring Committee, as part of a "dark money web" funding at least $9.1 million in spending in 2011 and 2012 recall elections in Wisconsin.[12]

O'Keefe also appears to have ties going back decades to other individuals who have been close to the Kochs, such as Edward H. Crane. O'Keefe's website states, for example, that in 1981, "Senator McCarthy invited Ed Crane and Eric to dine with him in the Senate dining room, where the trio discussed the situation with political speech and regulation, among other things."[13]

Wisconsin Club for Growth

O'Keefe is on the Board of Directors and is chair of the Wisconsin Club for Growth (WCFG). O'Keefe was also on the board of the national Club for Growth organization in 2007.[9]

WCFG has funneled millions of dollars to other right-wing advocacy groups, many of which have spent large sums on political ads. In 2011 and 2012, WCFG "spent more than $9.1 million during the [Wisconsin] recalls, one of the biggest sources of “issue ad” funding during that period" even though the group spent only $100,000 directly, according to Express Milwaukee.[14] [15]

In 2011 and 2012, donations from WCFG have provided almost the entire budget of Citizens for a Strong America, which in turn funded conservative organizations including the anti-gay Wisconsin Family Action, anti-abortion Wisconsin Right to Life, and the Healthcare Compact Alliance--whose parent organization, Competitive Governance Action,[16] included Eric O'Keefe on its board of directors.[17]

In 2011, WCFG also provided about half the budget for the pro-business Jobs First Coalition, which in turn transferred $245,000 to a group called the American Federation for Children (AFC). AFC reported spending $1.1 million supporting Gov. Scott Walker during his recall, in addition to $1.3 million supporting Wisconsin Republican state senators being recalled in 2011.[12] In 2012, WCFG donated $250,000 directly to AFC.[18]

Wisconsin Club for Growth was one of 29 right-wing groups (including nonprofits, political vendors and party committees) that has reportedly been subpoenaed as a part of a "John Doe" investigation into possible campaign finance violations during Wisconsin's 2011 and 2012 elections, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Sam Adams Alliance

O'Keefe founded the Sam Adams Alliance (SAM) and served as chairman and CEO. According to O'Keefe's website, SAM was intended to be a right wing source of support for freedom of speech and discussion of political issues, training citizens to be activists and bloggers. The organization was active from 2007 to 2011.[19] The development of SAM led to the foundations of the tea party movement, allowing activists like Eric Odom the opportunity to develop websites and social media as a organizational platform. Odom was SAM's new media director before he branched out on his own.[10]

According to the State Policy Network's (SPN) website, SAM received funding from SPN and was listed in their network of state think tanks. [20]

The Franklin Center

In 2009, under O'Keefe's leadership the Sam Adams Alliance helped launch the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, and provided the new organization with "seed money," according to the National Journal.[21] [22] [23] [24]

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that in “its first year, the Franklin Center had a $2.9 million budget, much of it from the libertarian Sam Adams Alliance.” [25]

Project Veritas

In 2015, the Center for Media and Democracy (which publishes SourceWatch) discovered tax filings showing that Eric O'Keefe made a $50,000 donation to Project Veritas in 2013. Project Veritas is a group affiliated with James O'Keefe, known for a series of deceptive videos attacking targets like Planned Parenthood and ACORN, a community organizing group. In early 2014, Project Veritas published a video it had recorded of an enebriated Mike Ellis (R-Neenah), then President of the Wisconsin State Senate, discussing the possibility of "setting up an illegal political action committee to attack his Democratic opponent."[26] Ellis later speculated that WCFG was behind the sting.[27]

When called by CMD and asked about the $50,000 donation, Eric O'Keefe said "I didn't give that in 2013," then ended the call.[28] A copy of the relevant section of the tax filing is available here.


According to his personal website, O'Keefe is originally from Grosse Pointe, Michigan. He briefly worked at Detroit Broach and Machine and was a member of the United Steelworkers of America Local 7489.[13]

He lives in Spring Green, Wisconsin with his wife, Leslie Graves, who is president of the Lucy Burns Institute.

Libertarian Party

O'Keefe became involved with the Libertarian Party in the mid-1970s and was elected to the Libertarian National Committee in 1979. In 1980, he served as National Field Coordinator for the Libertarian presidential campaign,[13] in which David Koch was the vice presidential candidate, and was elected National Director of the Libertarian Party.[29] According to O'Keefe's website, he left the Libertarian Party in 1983.

In the 1980s, O'Keefe was involved with the National Taxpayers Union. In 1988, he joined the Cato Institute board of directors.[13] In 1991, O'Keefe formed U.S. Term Limits to push for legislation limiting congressional term limits across the US. As described by O'Keefe's website, the group was involved in "major innovation" related to political advertising.

"U.S. Term Limits also implemented a major innovation in political communication by creating Americans for Limited Terms to run aggressive pre-election issue advertising. The complex new laws of 1974 and the rewrite by the Supreme Court deterred participation in politics, as it was intended to do.
"However nothing in the law, the Buckley decision, or subsequent decisions precluded advertising to promote issue positions, even if that advertising might well influence voters, and therefore elections. So Eric recommended that friends of U.S. Term Limits set up a new entity, to limit exposure in the event of the F.E.C. complaints and possible other litigation we expected to meet for promoting our political views."[13]

Since the 1990s, O'Keefe has been involved in a number of right-wing political organizations engaged on topics such as fighting campaign finance reform, opposing the Affordable Care Act, and supporting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.


As of June 2014:

Articles and resources

Related PRWatch articles

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. Mary Spicuzza, John Doe targets sue Wisconsin election officials in Waukesha County," Wisconsin State Journal, May 30, 2014. Accessed June 16, 2014.
  2. Wall Street Journal editorial board, Wisconsin Political Speech Raid, Nov. 18, 2013, Wall Street Journal.
  3. Mary Bottari, Heart of Darkness: Criminal Investigation of WI Recall $,, Nov. 25, 2013
  4. 4.0 4.1 Matthew DeFour, "Eric O'Keefe compares John Doe subpoena targets to rape victims," Wisconsin State Journal, October 3, 2014. Accessed October 30, 2014.
  5. Patrick Marley and Jason Stein, "Wisconsin Club for Growth sues to shut down John Doe investigation," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, February 10, 2014. Accessed June 16, 2014.
  6. Jason Stein and Bill Glauber, "Club for Growth sues to force GAB out of Doe probe," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 30, 2014. Accessed June 16, 2014.
  7. Jason Stein, Daniel Bice, and Patrick Marley, "Federal court overturns Doe ruling, sends it back to state judges," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 24, 2014. Accessed September 30, 2014.
  8. Marc Fischer, "Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s recall: Big money fuels small-government fight," Washington Post, March 25, 2012. Accessed June 12, 2014.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Eric O'Keefe, Past Experience, personal website, accessed June 12, 2014.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Alex Brant-Zawadzki and Dawn Teo, Anatomy of the Tea Party Movement: Sam Adams Alliance, Huffington Post, Dec. 11, 2009
  11. Alex Brant-Zawadzki and Dawn Teo, Anatomy of the Tea Party Movement: Sam Adams Alliance, Huffington Post, Dec. 11, 2009.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Brendan Fischer, "WI Club for Growth, Target of Walker Recall Probe, at Center of Dark Money Web," Center for Media and Democracy, November 18, 2013. Accessed June 12, 2014.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 Eric O'Keefe, About Eric, personal website. Accessed June 12, 2014.
  14. Lisa Kaiser, "Who Was Wisconsin Club for Growth's $1 Million Donor?," Express Milwaukee, April 2, 2014. Accessed June 16, 2014.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Marc Fisher, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s recall: Big money fuels small-government fight, Washington Post, Mar 25, 2012
  16. Health Care Compact, About, organizational website, accessed June 16, 2014.
  17. Guidestar, Competitive Governance Action, People and Governance, accessed June 16, 2014.
  18. Wisconsin Club for Growth, 2012 Form 990, organizational IRS filing, November 14, 2013. Accessed June 16, 2014.
  19. Eric O'Keefe, About Eric, personal website, accessed Nov. 25, 2013
  20. State Policy Network, Same Adams Alliance, Official website, accessed December 11, 2013.
  21. Press release, Sam Adams Alliance Launches New Website
  22. Eric O’Keefe, Chairman and CEO, Sam Adams Alliance, How Understanding Politics Helps in Policy, Liberty Guide, October 18, 2012.
  23. Julie Kosterlitz, Conservative Watchdogs Awake, National Journal, Dec. 12, 2009.
  24. Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project, Non-Profit News, accessed December 11, 2013.
  25. Daniel Bice, Conservative outlets write all the news that fits their tilt, August 7, 2011.
  26. Patrick Marley and Daniel Bice, "GOP's Mike Ellis caught on recording talking of illegal fundraising," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 9, 2014. Accessed January 28, 2015.
  27. Wisconsin Eye, "Newsmakers: Exit Interview with Sen. Mike Ellis," YouTube, April 12, 2014. Accessed January 28, 2015.
  28. Mary Bottari, "Money Trail Revealed: Did Eric O’Keefe Pay James O’Keefe for Hatchet Job on GOP Senate President?," Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch, January 27, 2015. Accessed January 28, 2015.
  29. Wisconsin Political Speech Raid, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 18, 2013
  30. Center for Competitive Politics, Board of Directors, organizational website, accessed June 12, 2014.
  31. Paul Kane, One super PAC takes aim at incumbents of any party, Washington Post, Mar. 7, 2012
  32. Health Care Compact Alliance website, "About Us" page, accessed Apr. 12, 2011.
  33. Lucy Burns Institute, Our Staff, organizational website, accessed June 12, 2014.
  34. 34.0 34.1 Lucy Burns Institute, Our Story, organizational website, accessed June 12, 2014.
  35. Eric O'Keefe, Publications, personal website, accessed June 12, 2014