Conservative political poltergeist James O’Keefe’s mustache-glue gambit aired its big payoff this week in a YouTube video that ostensibly catches staffers for Greenpeace and Work for Progress and volunteers for state Rep. Joe Salazar (D-Thornton) endorsing voter fraud, or at least saying “awesome,” “cool” and “you could try it” in response to O’Keefe’s heavy-duty leading questions.
“Many people say that voter fraud is a myth, that it just can’t happen,” says O’Keefe, strolling through Boulder. “But what we uncovered with our hidden cameras this week should make voters across the country question the very integrity of our elections.”
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The next seven minutes show O’Keefe and company, sometimes in costume, saying they plan to commit voter fraud, that it will be easy given Colorado’s new all-mail balloting law, and gauging the responses of the various staffers, organizers and volunteers they meet. The footage, like much of O’Keefe’s work, is edited to portray its subjects in the worst light — and they do look bad.
At one point, O’Keefe pumps a Greenpeace staffer for information about where to find discarded ballots.
“This is going to sound weird, but ghetto Aurora,” she says. “North Aurora is a lot of people who, I hate to put in cliches, but people don’t care … African-Americans and Mexicans.”
Left out of the reel are the many accounts reported by Mother Jones of campaign folks shutting down O’Keefe’s hypothetical voting-fraud schemes or even calling the police when his team refused to disengage. Ultimately, in fact, nearly all of the fraud in the video is hypothetical. No one commits felony voting fraud on tape, though O’Keefe did end up applying for a job with Work for Progress under a fake name, “John Miller.” (update: O’Keefe points out he was offered the job and also that he also recommended a few other media folks).
The specter of Colorado’s 2013 election-modernization act in action — mandating that ballots be mailed to all voters and allowing for same-day voter registration — got O’Keefe interested in Colorado in the first place. He even speaks with Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who famously alleged that there were some 11,000 illegal voters in Colorado. To date, only one district attorney has taken Gessler’s recommendations and moved to prosecute four potential cases of voter fraud. At least two of those cases have already been deemed too weak to take to trial and dropped.
O’Keefe comes to Colorado with a long, and sometimes legally fraught, history of extreme tracking. In 2009, O’Keefe’s investigation of poverty action group ACORN — which alleged that it was willing to traffic women into the United States to work as prostitutes — destroyed the organization. In 2013, O’Keefe paid out $100,000 for violating California state law by secretly recording one of ACORN’s employees.
The ACORN scandal put O’Keefe on the map, but his tastes quickly became more politically focused. His organization, Project Veritas Action Fund, is a 501(c)(4) political nonprofit that he uses to investigate politicians and the campaigns that support them. In 2010, O’Keefe was arrested for in connection with a costumed attempt to record phone calls of Louisiana U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office. O’Keefe pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was fined $1,500.
He later made a music video about the experience:
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[O’Keefe disguised as a volunteer for Sen. Mark Udall’s re-election campaign via YouTube]
correction: O’Keefe was never convicted of tampering with any phones.