James O’Keefe’s pseudo-journalistic attack-dog group Project Veritas received more than $1.5 million in dark money in 2015, tax returns obtained by Jezebel show. Fueled by funds from two affiliated nonprofits that do not disclose their donors, O’Keefe and his merry band of pranksters spent the past year doing the kind of things they do best—like getting Democratic operatives fired for discussing how to perpetrate mass “voter fraud” and getting antifascist demonstrators arrested for threatening to drop stink bombs.
Dark money works by allowing donors to disguise their contributions to the organizations they want to support, and donors often give to dark money funds as a way of getting around political spending limits. Organizations such as the 501(c)(3) nonprofit DonorsTrust and the affiliated Donors Capital Fund—the two nonprofits supporting Project Veritas—function as shared ATMs for conservative and libertarian causes, funding think tanks and activist groups across the spectrum of the American Right. The Judicial Education Project, a nonprofit which proves legal and monetary support in the form of amicus briefs and monetary grants, received nearly $7.7 million from DonorsTrust in 2015. The Americans for Prosperity Foundation, of which billionaire industrialist David Koch is the chairman, received $5.7 million. The Government Accountability Institute—founded and chaired by Steve Bannon, and heavily supported by Robert and Rebekah Mercer—received $500,000.
Almost half of Project Veritas’s funding for 2015 came from approximately $1.5 million in funds from DonorsTrust (combined with another $10,000 from Donors Capital Fund). This represents an enormous increase from years past; between 2011 and 2014, DonorsTrust and Donors Capital gave Project Veritas less than $1.2 million total.
Stephen Gordon, a spokesman for Project Veritas declined to discuss its sources of funding. “We don’t disclose information about any of our donors,” said Stephen Gordon, a spokesman for Project Veritas. “We do have a very robust direct mail program and an online donation program.” In fact, Gordon continued, he doesn’t even know who any of the big ones are: “I can tell you, however, about a little old lady in Oregon who was having trouble with the website.”
But Project Veritas’s own tax return shows that it relies more on sizable donations from wealthy individuals and institutions than small-dollar, grassroots support: of the $3.7 million in funding Project Veritas received in 2015, the overwhelming majority—nearly $3.1 million—was in contributions larger than $5,000. Eight donations were greater than $50,000; five were greater than $100,000; and two (including the DonorsTrust contribution) were greater than $1 million.
On the two foundations’ tax returns for 2015, all of the donations to Project Veritas are designated as being “for general operations.” How exactly that money was spent isn’t specified, but what is clear is that O’Keefe began ramping up his election coverage in 2015, producing aggressive and misleading coverage of the nascent Clinton campaign with videos like “O’Keefe Undercover Video Shows Hillary Campaign Skirting Election Laws” and “Clinton Campaign: ‘Whatever you can get away with just do it.’”
O’Keefe’s work, though dishonest, gets results; undercover videos O’Keefe produced in a hit job on the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) led to the community-organizing group being defunded by Congress. A subsequent investigation by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found no evidence that ACORN had mishandled the $40 million federal grants it had received in the years before its disbanding; O’Keefe ended up settling a lawsuit filed by a former ACORN employee for $100,000, and also issued an apology. “The evidence illustrates,” California Attorney General Edmund Brown concluded, following a separate investigation, “that things are not always as partisan zealots portray them through highly selective editing of reality. Sometimes a fuller truth is found on the cutting room floor.”
More recently, O’Keefe’s operation got a man with no criminal record arrested in Washington, D.C. That man, Scott Charney, 35, is charged with conspiracy to commit assault (a misdemeanor) for his involvement in a plan to release Butyric acid—otherwise known as a stink bomb—at the Deploraball, a gathering of white nationalists and other Trump supporters on the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration as president.
Charging documents provided to Jezebel by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia show that Project Veritas gave the D.C. police “audio and video recordings” of a gathering of activists at the (now-infamous) Comet Ping Pong restaurant in mid-December. “We gave everything that had contextual importance to the police,” Gordon, the Project Veritas spokesperson told Jezebel. Gordon could not say who had determined what actually was of contextual importance, although he did note that Project Veritas’s legal counsel, Ben Barr, was involved in discussions with law enforcement.
Bill Miller, a spokesman for the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office, declined to comment on the evidence Project Veritas provided to the D.C. police. “We are looking forward to reviewing the video evidence from the government,” Shanlon Wu, Charney’s lawyer, told Jezebel.
“The purpose of the meeting was to discuss different action plans to disrupt—or prevent from occurring—the ‘Deploraball Ball,’” the charging documents read. In addition to the audio and video recordings, Project Veritas also provided a photograph and phone number of Charney, who was arrested on January 19—much to the delight of O’Keefe and company, who even went so far as to produce a (very low-budget) WANTED poster for other attendees of the meeting.
“I’ve spent years trying to fight the mainstream media that doesn’t view me as a journalist,” O’Keefe bragged to the Washington Post. “This is the first time that a video we shot has led to an arrest. It legitimizes what we’re doing. It’s a new era for us.”
DonorsTrust did not respond to an inquiry as to how all of this comports with the nonprofit’s pledge to support organizations dedicated to “limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise.”
If you know anything about how James O’Keefe or any other right wing mouthpieces are funding their operations, please let us know.
This story was produced by Gizmodo Media Group’s Special Projects Desk.