Media disrupter O’Keefe again on defensive despite financial encouragement from Trump
WASHINGTON – Days after Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign in June 2015, James O’Keefe, the conservative disrupter famous for trying to use secret recordings to embarrass liberals and journalists, visited Trump Tower and gave Trump a preview of his latest hidden camera video intended to undermine Hillary Clinton.
The footage, widely dismissed after it was released some weeks later, showed officials from Clinton’s presidential campaign appearing to accept a payment for campaign swag from a Canadian woman at a Clinton campaign rally – in violation, O’Keefe contended, of election laws barring campaign contributions from foreigners.
Trump had been promoting O’Keefe’s work for years and a few weeks earlier had donated $10,000 from his foundation to O’Keefe’s group.
At the meeting in his office, Trump praised the new video and pledged more money. As the campaign progressed, he pointed to other videos as evidence of his false accusations that Clinton paid people to cause violence at Trump campaign rallies, and since his inauguration, he and his team have continued to highlight O’Keefe’s work as evidence of the president’s repeated claims that the news media is peddling “fake news.”
So these should be good times for O’Keefe. He has an ally in the Oval Office who shares his views.
The nonprofit group he started in 2010, Project Veritas, and an affiliated political arm called Project Veritas Action Fund, have raised nearly $16 million, according to tax filings, and last year the group paid him $317,000.
After years of criticism from across the political spectrum – including from a conservative establishment that has viewed him with suspicion – O’Keefe would seem well-positioned to be more broadly embraced by the right, and feared by the left.
Yet O’Keefe cannot seem to get out of his own way. And after an attempted sting aimed at the Washington Post backfired in spectacular fashion last month, he has found himself in a familiar position – defending his misleading tactics, uneven results and even his nonprofit’s tax-exempt status, against criticism from across the political spectrum.
Brent Bozell, an influential conservative who runs a nonprofit group that also seeks to expose liberal media bias, called out O’Keefe on Twitter for “grandstanding and hurting the conservative movement.”
In fact, the elite conservative donor class has always mostly kept its distance – at least publicly – from Project Veritas. The primary funding vehicles steered by the billionaire conservative brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, for instance, have refused entreaties from O’Keefe’s allies to support his groups, said people familiar with the requests.
Megadonors interested in watchdogging the media have instead gravitated to more cautious groups like Bozell’s Media Research Center. It has raised $87 million over the last-half dozen years – five times more than Project Veritas during that span, according to tax filings. The Media Research Center regularly collects six- and seven-figure checks from some the right’s leading donors, including the families of the New York hedge fund trader Robert Mercer and the Amway co-founder Richard DeVos.
James O’Keefe, the conservative sting artist and founder of Project Veritas, has been defending his misleading tactics and tax-exempt status.