The guerrilla documentarians known for manipulating footage to discredit Democratic organizations face a federal complaint over their infiltration of a consulting firm ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
Project Veritas president James O’Keefe first garnered attention for his right-wing sting operations in 2009. The New Jersey-born activist dressed in retro-pimp garb that year and purported to have gotten advice from the liberal community-organizing group Acorn on how to run a tax-free brothel for underage sex workers.
Though California and federal authorities later exonerated Acorn of any wrongdoing — concluding that O’Keefe’s footage had been heavily edited — the bad press that the nonprofit faced because of O’Keefe had already bankrupted it at that point.
O’Keefe’s tactics have marred subsequent investigations. A year before his work forced the resignations of two top officials at National Public Radio, for example, he was arrested and fined in 2010 for trying to infiltrate the offices of Mary Landrieu, a then-Democratic senator in New Orleans. O’Keefe’s efforts last year to document widespread voter fraud and campaign-finance violations in the Democratic Party largely fell flat.
Democracy Partners, which collaborates with progressive organizations and Democratic campaigns and committees, claims in a June 1 complaint that it was one of the targets of this sting.
The group says O’Keefe deployed one of its agents, a woman named Allison Maass, to pose as a campaign volunteer so that she could secretly record the campaign offices of Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton, Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders.
Saying this subterfuge cost them contracts, damaged their reputations, and compromised their confidential and proprietary information, Democracy Partners wants more than $1 million damages. Joined by Strategic Consulting Group and Robert Creamer, the owner of that member group, Democracy Partners alleges counts of trespass, fraudulent misrepresentation, civil conspiracy and breach of fiduciary duty.
The four videos Maass shot and released this past fall were viewed on YouTube millions of times and were distributed on the conservative outlet Breitbart. Though Project Veritas touted the videos as showing a scheme to allow masses of noncitizens to vote for Clinton, Democracy Now has disputed these conclusions. The fact-checking website Snopes also cast doubt on the videos’ worth, saying the videos “reveal tidbits of selectively and (likely deceptively edited) footage absent of any context in which to evaluate them.” (Parentheses in original.)
“Unless his organization releases the footage in full, undertaking a fair assessment of their veracity is all but impossible,” Snopes said of O’Keefe.
In addition to the lucrative contract that Democracy Partners says the scandal cost it, the videos prompted the resignation of Creamer. Over a decade earlier, Creamer was sentenced to five months in prison on charges that he failed to collect withholding tax and wrote checks with insufficient funds.
O’Keefe denies that his group did anything illegal.
“Our army of guerrilla journalists, which grows daily, will continue to expose the malfeasance and corruption committed by these organizations,” he said in a statement.
“In fact, we will be deploying a new batch of freshly trained journalists next week to shine additional light on the cockroaches of the corrupt DC establishment,” the statement continues.
Democracy Partners is represented by Joseph Sandler with the firm Sandler Reiff Lamb. The group has not returned an email seeking comment.
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