Project Veritas

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Project Veritas is a group affiliated with James O'Keefe, a right-wing provocateur known for a series of deceptive videos attacking targets like Planned Parenthood and ACORN, a community organizing group.[1]

In fall 2014, the group "launched a political offshoot with its sights set on high-profile campaigns and organizations" called Project Veritas Action, according to Mother Jones.[2]

News and Controversies

In its tax filings, Project Veritas states that its mission "is to train, educate, and inform others to investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct in both public and private institutions in order to achieve a more ethical and transparent society."[3] Some of the primary methods used by O'Keefe and other Project Veritas operatives, however, are disguise and deceptive editing.

Project Veritas Served with Restraining Order, Latest 'Sting' Blocked

Michigan Circuit Court Judge Brian R. Sullivan granted the American Federation of Teachers-Michigan's request to bar James O'Keefe's Project Veritas from releasing information gained through a possibly illegal sting over the summer of 2017.[4]

According to the Intercept, "political operative Marisa Jorge posed as a University of Michigan student interested in becoming a teacher and applied for a summer internship with the teachers union. (Verney, the Project Veritas executive director, said he knows Marisa Jorge, but wouldn’t confirm or deny whether she works for the organization.) Jorge was hired as an intern in May, and over the course of three months, she gathered information that exceeded the scope of her duties, the lawsuit alleges. For example, she showed a particular interest in employees who were disciplined for inappropriate sexual interactions with students. On more than one occasion, the lawsuit alleges, Jorge was found sitting alone in other employees’ offices, accessing information she had no right to."[4]

"The lawsuit accuses Jorge of fraudulent misrepresentation, trespass, eavesdropping, and theft. It also accuses Jorge and Project Veritas of conspiring to infiltrate AFT Michigan, gather and copy proprietary information, and disseminate that information to paint the union group in a false light. By granting a temporary restraining order, Sullivan has indicated his belief that the allegations are more than likely to be true and that the benefit of barring the defendants from disseminating the information Jorge collected outweighs the harm of suppressing her speech. The injunction will stay in place for at least 14 days, and the case is set for a hearing on October 5."[4]

O'Keefe had no comment when The Intercept asked him about the restraining order.[4]

Botched Sting Attempt on Open Society Foundations

On March 16, 2016 James O'Keefe contacted the offices of Open Society Foundations -- a nonprofit that promotes democratic rights internationally -- under the name "Victor Kesh" and left a voicemail in which he expressed interest in collaborating for the promotion of "European values."[5] O'Keefe botched the sting attempt when he failed to hang up the phone, discussed the sting with someone else while still recording the voicemail, and revealed his identity to Open Society Foundations by accessing his target's Linkedin page while logged on to his own profile. O'Keefe admitted defeat several months after the sting attempt, stating in an interview with Breitbart that he was "forced to abandon an ambitious undercover investigation into billionaire left-wing financier George Soros."[6] He stated in the same interview that the objective of the sting had been to find out "what the Soros foundation is doing in Eastern Europe." According to The New Yorker magazine, recently-appointed Veritas board member Matthew Tyrmand "is a thirty-five-year-old Polish-American investor who is an informal adviser to Poland’s right-wing nationalist government."[5]

Operative Refuses Plan to "Dupe" Protesters with "Kill Cops" Script (2015)

In March 2015, former Director of Operations of Project Veritas Rich Valdes told Media Matters that he had been fired over his unwillingness to "strong-arm" an undercover operative into baiting protesters at a rally against police brutality. According to Media Matters, which also reviewed copies of emails related to the incident, Valdes said:

"O'Keefe wanted him to send the other activist, whom Valdes describes as a 'Muslim operative,' to a January National Action Network event related to the case of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died after being put in a chokehold by a New York police officer in July 2014.[7]
"'In this particular situation, James came to my desk and asked me to send this particular operative into the field,' Valdes recalls about the incident, which he says took place in the organization's Mamaroneck, N.Y., offices. 'And he was really anxious and he said, 'do whatever it takes, do whatever it takes, tell him to say whatever he's got to say, get me the content.' Content is king.'"[7]

According to Valdes, the operative, who was Muslim, was hesitant about doing the project, worried about its legality and about its intellectual honesty.

"This particular situation, he made the case that in the past when we were out there, we were just exposing stuff that was already going on, he felt the difference with this ... he felt that what we were trying to achieve, or what James was asking him to do, was to kind of dupe people into saying something they would not ordinarily say and he took exception to that, and of course I respected that."[7]

Despite being told by O'Keefe to press the operative again, Valdes decided not to, and was then called into O'Keefe's office and dismissed from Project Veritas. Valdes also said that he had not received his final paycheck. His lawyer said that he was considering a lawsuit over wrongful termination.[7]

Talking Points Memo published the full text of the script the operative was to use, based on emails obtained from Valdes' attorney:

"As a minority and a Muslim, I know what it's like when the police treat me unfairly. They have even searched my little daughter's body. Can you believe that? Do you know what it's like to have your rights violated because of the color of your skin or because of your name? -PAUSE-
"Sometimes, I wish I could just kill some of these cops. Don't you just wish we could have one of the cops right here in the middle of our group? -PAUSE-
"What would you do if we could get Officer Pantoleo (who killed Eric Garner) right here in this crowd? What would you do to him?"[8]

A spokesman for Project Veritas declined to comment on the situation to Talking Points Memo beyond confirming Valdes' former employment,[8] but the same spokesman had earlier told the New York Post -- which first reported the story -- that "Project Veritas would never do anything that we believe would incite violence against police officers. Anyone suggesting otherwise is clearly unfamiliar with our body of work."[9]

WI Senate President Drops Out of GOP Primary after Project Veritas Video (2014)

In April 2014, Project Veritas published a video it had secretly recorded in which Wisconsin State Senate President Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) appeared to discuss "setting up an illegal political action committee to attack his Democratic opponent" and "having his fundraiser, Judi Rhodes Engels, help run the supposedly independent group," as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel described the video. Ellis later told the Journal Sentinel that "he had never spoken to her about the matter" and that "he later discovered his plan wasn't legal and scrapped the idea." Engels likewise said they had never discussed the idea.[10] Ellis announced two days later that he was dropping out of his re-election race, after serving for almost 44 years in the state legislature. He had previously been known as a champion of campaign finance laws, and his decision to leave the race would "accelerate a trend in the Senate toward sharper party clashes, observers agreed," according to the Journal Sentinel.[11]

In an interview after the video's release, Ellis speculated that Wisconsin Club for Growth (WiCFG) might have been behind the video.[12] The Center for Media and Democracy reported in January 2015 on tax documents showing that WiCFG Director Eric O'Keefe, a longtime supporter of Scott Walker and a group at the center of the John Doe criminal investigation of potentially illegal campaign finance coordination, had given $50,000 to Project Veritas in 2013. 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.[13]

Learn more about the John Doe investigation here, and keep up with CMD's latest reporting on the investigation with the Reporter's Guide.

Failed Attempts to Entrap Democrats and Nonprofits During 2014 Midterm Campaigns

Project Veritas operatives reportedly tried to get staffers for several Democratic campaigns on tape supporting voter fraud in 2014. Mother Jones reported in October that O'Keefe and two others "tried to bait Democratic field staffers into approving voter fraud involving Colorado's universal vote-by-mail program, according to three Democratic staffers who interacted with O'Keefe or his colleagues." Two operatives asked questions about filling out others' mail-in ballots, which staffers explained would be voter fraud, telling them not to do it. Wearing makeup and a costume and presenting himself as a "civics professor," O'Keefe tried to enter the office of a progressive nonprofit, "New Era Colorado," while carrying campaign literature for the Democratic candidate. New Era staff refused to let them inside, and the group's executive director told Mother Jones he thought "O'Keefe and his collaborators 'were trying to establish evidence we were working together.'"[14]

$100,000 Paid to Settle Lawsuit over Secret Recording (2013)

In March 2013, O'Keefe agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by Juan Carlos Vera, a former employee of ACORN. The lawsuit alleged that O'Keefe and his associate filmed Vera in the San Diego ACORN offices without his consent, a violation of California law, and portrayed him untruthfully. The video was later heavily edited and published on conservative mega-blog Breitbart.com, making it appear that Vera had conspired with O'Keefe to smuggle underage girls across the Mexican border, when in fact Vera had immediately contacted the police after O'Keefe left his office.[15]

"Probe" of Senator's Office Nets Arrests and Probation for Project Veritas (2010)

In January 2010, O'Keefe -- together with Stan Dai, Joseph Basel, and Robert Flanagan -- was arrested for attempting to enter U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu's (D-LA) office under false pretenses. The four were arrested under suspicion of plotting to tamper with Landrieu's phones, and initially were "charged with entering federal property under false pretenses with the intent of committing a felony."[16] O'Keefe, Flanagan, and Basel posed as a telephone repair crew and asked a staff member for access to the phone system, while Dai reportedly "was arrested with a listening device in a car blocks from the senator's offices," according to the New Orleans Times Picayune.[16] The four pled guilty "to entering real property belonging to the United States under false pretenses" and were sentenced in May, with O'Keefe receiving a fine of $1,500, 100 hours of community service, and three years' probation; and the other three receiving fines of $1,500, 75 hours each of community service, and two years' probation. According to the Times Picayune, "The judge repeatedly told the defendants that, as journalists, they needed to learn 'where to draw a line' in their investigative methods."[17]

"Disingenuous" Sting on ACORN (2009)

Project Veritas first entered the public eye in 2009 when its founder/president, James O'Keefe, "gained notice for secretly videotaping his exchanges with workers for the community organizing group ACORN who appeared to advise him how to avoid prosecution for a variety of unsavory activities like child prostitution," according to the New York Times. Aided by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, the group spread the impression that O'Keefe had dressed in an outlandish "pimp" costume, a detail "that was quickly embraced by the mainstream media and turned into a central part of the ACORN story," leading to ridicule of ACORN employees for their "apparent cluelessness," according to Media Matters.[18] Mother Jones referred to the ACORN sting and other such videos as "disingenuously edited hit jobs."[19]

Later investigations, including one by the California Attorney General, showed that the videos released by O'Keefe were misleading. From the AG's report:

"Evidence obtained by Brown tells a somewhat different story [than the edited videos originally released], however, as reflected in three videotapes made at ACORN locations in California. One ACORN worker in San Diego called the cops. Another ACORN worker in San Bernardino caught on to the scheme and played along with it, claiming among other things that she had murdered her abusive husband. Her two former husbands are alive and well, the Attorney General's report noted. At the beginning and end of the Internet videos, O'Keefe was dressed as a 1970s Superfly pimp, but in his actual taped sessions with ACORN workers, he was dressed in a shirt and tie, presented himself as a law student, and said he planned to use the prostitution proceeds to run for Congress. He never claimed he was a pimp."

The Attorney General found that while some members of ACORN had engaged in "inappropriate behavior," the organization had "committed no violation of criminal laws."[20]

A 2009 investigation by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee found "no evidence of fraudulent voting or of violations of federal financing rules by the group in the past five years," and also that Project Veritas "might have broken privacy laws in California and Maryland [...] The two states “appear to ban” the recording of face-to-face conversations without the consent of all participants, the report said."[21]

Nonetheless, Congress voted to pull funding from ACORN, and the group ceased operating in the United States.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) contributed to pressure against ACORN, as the Center for Media and Democracy found.[22] Despite ACORN's ceasing to operate, as Bloomberg Businessweek reported in late 2014, "Every year since 2009, Congress has added language to must-pass spending bills that prohibits funds from ACORN."[23]

Former Director of Operations Calls Project Veritas "Nothing More than a PR Machine"

According to Media Matters, "Valdes also had harsh words for Project Veritas, suggesting the organization is less concerned with news and more focused on inflating O'Keefe's standing among conservative media."[7]

"Each story that goes out is designed to push him further ahead as a leader in conservative media," Valdes said. "I think it's questionable if you purport yourself to be a news outlet and you are nothing more than a P.R. machine. That's something I have learned in my time there."[7]

Funding

Project Veritas does not appear to disclose its donors, but some of its major funders can be identified from tax filings and other documents. Known funders include:

Core Financials

2012[27]
For the period January 1, 2012-December 31, 2012.

  • Total Revenue: $738,210
  • Total Expenses: $694,501
    • Includes $158,787 in compensation, $56,000 paid to president James O'Keefe and $58,450 to executive director Daniel Francisco.
  • Net Assets: $36,937

2011[3]
Period not specified; filing submitted December 14, 2012.

  • Total Revenue: $396,450
  • Total Expenses: $403,222
    • Includes $1,500 in compensation, $1,000 paid to Francisco Gonzalez and $500 to Greg Walker. James O'Keefe and Shane Cory were estimated to work an average of 50 and 40 hours per week, respectively, but received no compensation.
  • Net Assets: $-6,722

Personnel

Staff

Staff as of January 2015 (according to LinkedIn):

  • Rich Valdés, Director of Operations[28] (former)[7]
  • Jim Dimeo, IT and Communications Manager[29]

Board of Directors

As of 2014:[30]

  • James O'Keefe, Chairman
  • Russell Verney, Executive Director
  • Matthew Tyrmand, Director
  • Colin Sharkey, Director

Contact Details

Project Veritas
1214 W. Boston Post Road, No. 145
Mamaroneck, NY 10543 Phone: (914) 908-2300
Website: https://www.projectveritas.com Email: info@projectveritas.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Project_Veritas
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ProjectVeritas

References

  1. Dave Gilson, "Pimps, Lies, and Videotapes," Mother Jones, March 31, 2011.
  2. Andy Kroll, "Colorado Dems: We Caught James O'Keefe and His Friends Trying to Bait Us Into Approving Voter Fraud," Mother Jones, October 20, 2014.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Project Veritas, 2011 IRS Form 990, tax filing (amended return), December 14, 2012. Accessed January 23, 2015.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Ryan Grim, Maryam Saleh, and Rachel M. Cohen, Conservative Provocateur James O’keefe’s Group Hit With Restraining Order, Blocking Latest Sting, The Intercept, September 29, 2017.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Jane Mayer, "Sting of Myself," The New Yorker, May 30, 2016.
  6. Joel Pollak, "Exclusive: James O'Keefe Outs Himself in George Soros Investigation," Breitbart, May 19, 2016.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 Joe Strupp, "Former "Top" Employee: Project Veritas A "P.R. Machine" For O'Keefe," Media Matters, March 19, 2015.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Catherine Thompson, "Ex-Staffer Slams James O'Keefe: He Crossed A Line With Vile 'Kill Cops' Stunt," Talking Points Memo, March 20, 2015.
  9. Carl Campanile, Activist allegedly tried to bait protesters with ‘kill cops’ script, New York Post, March 17, 2015.
  10. 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.
  11. Patrick Marley and Jason Stein, "Mike Ellis drops out of state Senate race," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 11, 2014. Accessed January 28, 2015.
  12. Wisconsin Eye, "Newsmakers: Exit Interview with Sen. Mike Ellis," YouTube, April 12, 2014. Accessed January 28, 2015.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 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.
  14. Andy Kroll, "Colorado Dems: We Caught James O'Keefe and His Friends Trying to Bait Us Into Approving Voter Fraud," Mother Jones, October 20, 2014.
  15. Kevin Robillard, "James O’Keefe agrees to pay $100,000 settlement," Politico, March 8, 2013.
  16. 16.0 16.1 David Hammer, "ACORN 'gotcha' man arrested in attempt to tamper with Mary Landrieu's office phones," New Orleans Times Picayune, January 26, 2010.
  17. Ramon Antonio Vargas, "James O'Keefe and friends plead guilty in Mary Landrieu office caper," New Orleans Times Picayune, May 26, 2010.
  18. Eric Boehlert, "James O'Keefe and the myth of the ACORN pimp," Media Matters, February 17, 2010.
  19. Dave Gilson, "Pimps, Lies, and Videotapes," Mother Jones, March 31, 2011.
  20. Office of Attorney General Kemala D. Harris, "Brown Releases Report Detailing a Litany of Problems with ACORN, But No Criminality," California Department of Justice, press release, April 1, 2010.
  21. John Schwartz, "Report Uncovers No Voting Fraud by Acorn," New York Times, December 24, 2009.
  22. Harriet Rowan, "James O'Keefe Pays $100K Settlement after Deceiving Public about ACORN (and ALEC Helped Take Down ACORN)," Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch, March 14, 2013.
  23. Dave Weigel, "Congress's Undying (and Less Than Effective) ACORN Funding Ban," Bloomberg Businessweek, December 15, 2014.
  24. Center for Media and Democracy, DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund Grant Recipients, SourceWatch.org, updated July 2014.
  25. Jonas Persson, "James O'Keefe Cronies Unveiled in Attempted Sting on CMD," PRWatch.org, September 11, 2014.
  26. American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, Project Veritas, Conservative Transparency database, accessed January 22, 2015.
  27. Project Veritas, 2012 IRS Form 990, tax filing, November 14, 2013. Accessed January 23, 2015.
  28. LinkedIn, Rich Valdés, personal profile, accessed January 28, 2015.
  29. LinkedIn, Jim Dimeo, personal profile, accessed January 28, 2015.
  30. Project Veritas, 2014 IRS Form 990, tax filing, August 14, 2015.