Project Veritas Is Nothing Without James O'Keefe
In the wake of James O'Keefe's ouster from Project Veritas, and the subsequent launch of his O'Keefe Media Group, the liberal media released a predictable barrage of hit pieces on him masquerading as journalism. Perhaps they delight in recounting the accusations against O'Keefe out of a desire to even the score he ran up on them for years.
O'Keefe is accused of, among other things, excessive spending, underhanded tactics, demeaning his staff, and, one might assume, kicking puppies. What these articles fail to mention is that James O'Keefe got results. In fact, it is no coincidence that this controversy effectively killed his most impactful investigation ever, exposing what appears to be gross malfeasance at Pfizer, one of the biggest and most powerful multinational companies in the world.
I do not know if any of the accusations levied against O'Keefe are true, and neither do any of the media outlets reporting on them. They condemn their own profession by failing to provide a shred of hard evidence for these accusations. I can tell you, however, that none of these accusations sound like the James O'Keefe I know.
I started working for O'Keefe as his chief fundraiser soon after the groundbreaking exposé of ACORN, the "community organizing" entity once led by Barack Obama. Armed with little more than a hidden camera, a young female colleague, and his grandmother's chinchilla coat, O'Keefe took down an organization with 500,000 members and 1,200 chapters throughout the United States, which was dedicated to enslaving people to the welfare state and increasing the voter turnout for far-Left Democrats.
At that time, O'Keefe's young organization raised less than $1 million per year, but in the ensuing years he grew it to a $20-million organization with a large, professional staff. The Left was appalled and terrified by his tactics, but most of all, they hated his effectiveness.
O'Keefe and I conducted many donor meetings together for Project Veritas. People like me, who raise money for activists and public policy organizations, enjoy sharing war stories about eccentric donors and narcissistic politicos. After all, D.C. is known as "Hollywood for ugly people" for a reason.
Although I was with Project Veritas only in its early days, the majority of my most interesting war stories involve O'Keefe. He has a knack for finding himself in unusual but opportune situations.
For instance, one afternoon, O'Keefe and I found ourselves in the sunroom of a large home in Palm Beach, soliciting a donor who previously had given us a small amount of support. This was our first meeting with him, and we knew that he made large donations to many like-minded organizations and politicians. A successful outcome here would make or break the trip and go a long way toward establishing the organization.
As we presented Project Veritas' vision for growth, the home phone rang. The donor excused himself as he took the call in the room, telling us, “Oh, hold on, this is [well-known conservative U.S. senator]. Hi, [senator's first name], I'll have to call you back, I'm sitting here with James O'Keefe and David Hoyt."
My internal reactions ran the gamut. At first, I was somewhat annoyed that he took the call, right as we built to the crescendo of our appeal, but after hearing it was from a sitting U.S. senator, I was impressed by how valuable this man's time was. Then, I was amused that he would think this senator would know who O'Keefe and I were. Bear in mind, this was 10 years ago. And finally, I was taken aback at the importance that this donor ascribed to our meeting.
O'Keefe, meanwhile, seemed completely composed. He picked up right where he left off, and proceeded to tell this donor that every other organization and politician he supported was a waste of resources, that Project Veritas is the only organization that is doing work that really matters, and he ought to dedicate the entirety of his philanthropy to us.
I was shocked. Not because O'Keefe was wrong, necessarily, but because the company line in fundraising is that we are proud to work with many like-minded allies across the conservative and libertarian movement. I had been trained to never demean another organization's value.
But, as was so often the case, O'Keefe was right. The donor made a substantial contribution on the spot. This is a fairly typical O'Keefe story. He might not do things the way you or I would, but it worked. And in fact, it was a more honest than conventional practice. Whatever else one might say about O'Keefe, he believes more passionately in his work than almost anyone I have ever met.
O'Keefe's congenital disregard for such norms is precisely why he is so effective. The concept of an O'Keefeless Project Veritas is complete nonsense. He has been imitated before, including by the Left, and it has resulted in pitiful failure. The reason that O'Keefe succeeds where they have failed is that he is a category unto himself.
Yes, there have been gonzo journalists and many undercover reporters before him, but O'Keefe uniquely combines an astute sense of newsworthiness, strategic thinking, opportunism, and a flair for the dramatic. He is able to catch journalistic lightning in a bottle due to these qualities.
Years before I worked for O'Keefe at Project Veritas, he and I were colleagues and friends at a nonprofit organization that trained young conservative leaders. It was the first job in the movement for us both.
The first time we met was at a work retreat in Key West. As I sat on the outdoor balcony of a nondescript hotel, O'Keefe sat down next to me, introduced himself, and proceeded to engage in a remarkably open conversation with me about life, girls, college, and politics. He then asked if I had ever smoked a Cuban cigar. It came as news to me that Cuban cigars were even available and even more so that he had a box of them with him.
Over the years I have known O'Keefe, I’ve found him to be brave, thoughtful, generous, and loyal. The reports of him mistreating staff run counter to my experiences with him. I do not mean to imply that the accusations are untrue, which is not for me to say, but to provide a fuller picture of what it is like to work with O'Keefe.
Last October, the organization I now work for, the Heartland Institute, presented our Liberty Prize to O'Keefe at our annual dinner gala. Heartland does not give out the prize every year, only when we identify a worthy recipient. Keynote speakers at such events typically command five figure honoraria, sometimes more, but O'Keefe declined to receive such a large payment. Even though it had been a few years since we had seen each other, the generosity and integrity that I knew him for had not changed.
I recall O'Keefe telling donors at Project Veritas years ago that his long-term vision was to recruit an army of citizen journalists, with a hidden camera behind every blade of grass, to adapt a line from Admiral Yamamoto. I am pleased to see that his vision is being realized now by O'Keefe Media Group, and I anticipate continued success for him in this new venture.
David Hoyt (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the director of development at The Heartland Institute.
Image: Gage Skidmore