The New York Attorney General's office Eric Schneiderman laid the groundwork for revoking the charitable status of the conservative group Project Veritas last week, claiming he had deceived the state about the criminal conviction of President James O'Keefe.
In response, Project Veritas is floating a surprising defense: that O'Keefe, the founder of the group and its most prominent public face for the past eight years, was actually a minor player during its early days.
"James was not a director or officer of the company at the time," spokesman Stephen Gordon told The Daily Beast on Tuesday.
The question of the level of involvement of O & # 39; Keefe in the origins of the Veritas project could determine the future of the group in the state of New York, where O & # 39; Keefe lives and Project Veritas is based. If Schneiderman concludes that the Veritas Project violated state regulations, he could be prevented from soliciting contributions in New York.
The Attorney General's office has suggested that Project Veritas may have tricked the state into its 2011 request for a charitable solicitation license by stating that none of its "officers, directors, or senior executives" had been previously convicted of a felony or missing
O & # 39; Keefe pleaded guilty the previous year to a misdemeanor charge for trespassing on government property under false pretenses. The charge came in the middle of an undercover operation in the then Sen. The office of Mary Landrieu (D-LA) in New Orleans.
But Project Veritas says that it fully complied with New York law when it did not take note of O & # 39; Keefe's conviction because it was not old enough to meet the limit on the application form.
"On all of the New York charities, Project Veritas provided all the requested information," O & # 39; Keefe told The Daily Beast. "If Project Veritas is required to provide the New York Attorney General with additional information on this matter, Project Veritas will do so"
While it is true that the request submitted by the group before the State of New York was before O & O # 39; Keefe will hold an official leadership position, was also deeply involved with Project Veritas activities at that time, releasing high-profile secret videos directed at the left-wing community organizing team ACORN and employees of National Public Radio. When the group applied for tax exemption in June 2010, it listed O & # 39; Keefe as its highest paid employee, with the title of "founder". The following year, he was included in the public records as its president.
the legal hair split represents a rare defensive posture for O'Keefe, who is often surreptitiously focusing on employees of Democratic or progressive organizations with hidden cameras. His latest project, a failed sting of The Washington Post has put new scrutiny in the group. One of his undercover cameramen failed to convince reporters to publish a false story designed to discredit allegations of sexual assault against Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore.
It was the effort to stumble upon the Message that led Schneiderman's office to renew his scrutiny of the group. But disputes over compliance and accuracy of Project Veritas disclosures extend beyond New York. A Daily Beast review of public records reveals at least five other states in which O'Keefe's criminal record was not on the list. In some of these cases, sanctions were imposed against the group due to this lack of disclosure.
"Perhaps it should not be surprising that a group known for its deceptively edited videos would show a pattern of deceptive state welfare regulators," said Brendan Fischer, director of federal and reform programs at FEC at the Campaign Legal Center, a group of vigilance.
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In New Mexico, Project Veritas faces problems identical to those in New York. The group used a generic application form that it submitted to state regulators in 2010. The form requires the same disclosure about the criminal convictions of any "official, director or executive director," that the group insists that it did not include O & # 39 Keefe at that time. .
In 2015, both Utah and Mississippi revoked the group's charitable solicitation license on documents that did not reveal O & # 39; Keefe's conviction. O & # 39; Keefe continued to raise funds in Mississippi despite the suspension, and the state subsequently imposed a fine of $ 1,857.20 against the group. Project Veritas finally decided to retire from Mississippi. Currently, a database of registered charities in Utah does not include Project Veritas.
O & # 39; Keefe did not disclose his criminal conviction on documents in North Carolina, where the Veritas Project was previously fined before the state reinstated its charitable solicitation license.  O & # 39; Keefe says he had disclosed his criminal history in previous filings with the three states (Utah, Mississippi, and North Carolina), and did not realize he had to do so at each annual registration renewal, Despite the forms for all of those renewals that contain the same "yes or no" question.
O. Keefe also did not disclose his convictions on the Project Veritas charity application license in Maine. He did it again in two additional annual renewals, according to an investigation from the state of Maine. The state also noted that the group had not disclosed that it had been sanctioned in other states due to similar failures to disclose that criminal record.
It seems to be a recurring problem in Project Veritas charity applications in California as well. Forms in that state ask: "During this reporting period, were funds from any organization used to pay any penalty, fine or trial?" Despite having admitted such fines to other state regulators, Project Veritas responded "No" to that question in its 2011 record and each subsequent annual renewal filed with the state.
In statements sent to The Daily Beast, O & # 39; Keefe and Gordon declined to directly address disclosure discrepancies in other states, except to minimize the problem in general. "Sir, the conviction of O'Keefe was revealed in several states," said O Keefe, in the third person. "In addition, this information has been reported in the national media."
Experts, meanwhile, said it was reasonable for Schneiderman and other regulators to take groups like Project Veritas to high standards in their pursuit of tax benefits.
Nothing prohibits an individual with a criminal record from running for or associating with a charity, "Fischer said." But that background must be revealed and described. "