The latest sting video from conservative provocateur James O’Keefe centers on a pretty small get: $75 spent on some Hillary Clinton swag at her campaign launch.
In an undercover video by O’Keefe’s sting group Project Veritas, an activist for the conservative organization is seen allegedly playing the role of middleman for a foreign donation to the Clinton campaign.
O’Keefe alleges that the money came from a Canadian citizen who, in effect, passed money to the Clinton campaign in violation of federal law. To the Clinton camp, the video shows nothing more than its staff following the law despite an attempt at entrapment.
At least one campaign finance expert said that if the money is indeed the Canadian’s, the video shows wrongdoing by the Clinton camp.
“If the Clinton staffer knew it was the Canadian donor’s money, then the Clinton staffer (and, consequently, the Clinton campaign) also violated the federal law ban on knowingly accepting a contribution in the name of another and accepting a contribution from a foreign national,” Paul Ryan, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center said.
Regardless, given the deadlock at the FEC between commissioners and the tiny size of the donation, the case would be unlikely to ever be pursued. Instead, it’s another political Rorschach test, which shows different things to Clinton’s detractors and her supporters.
The sting is the latest move by O’Keefe, who has yet to match the success he had in getting the liberal group ACORN dismantled with videos that appeared to show the group giving advice on avoiding taxes. O’Keefe’s latest undercover sting operations have attempted to catch Clinton staff skirting the rules on camera, including one that O’Keefe claims to show Clinton staff selectively registering only supporters to vote.
Clinton’s staffers “know the ins and outs of the election code, and we’ve shown you, they’re willing to break the law,” O’Keefe says in the latest video, promising more to come. “Next up, we go even deeper inside the Hillary campaign, to show you how election laws and rules are ignored at every level. Stay tuned, Hillary, and check your email.”
The Clinton campaign brushed O’Keefe off as an annoyance who hasn’t proved anything except that they followed the law.
O’Keefe is a longtime political provocateur who has faced legal challenges for his investigations and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges for entering then-Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu’s office with two allies disguised as repairmen. Critics argue he misrepresents his subjects by heavily editing his videos.
The latest video segment, which plays a little like a camp 60 Minutes expose, begins with a Montreal resident attempting to buy campaign swag. Citing federal law that prohibits donations from foreign nationals, a Clinton campaign official clearly declines the Canadian’s money.
“So, we can’t take contributions from anyone that is not a citizen of the United States,” Erin Tibe, the Clinton campaign compliance manager says in the video. “It’s not my rule; I’m very sorry.”
The Canadian national insists she wants to buy Clinton swag. Then, apparently referring to the Project Veritas employee, the Canadian asks the Clinton staffers, “Can I give her the money? She’s an American citizen, she can buy it for me?” Molly Barker, the Clinton campaign’s director of marketing, appears to respond, “She could make a donation.” The Project Veritas staffer then appears to buy $75 of Clinton campaign swag for the Canadian.
Federal election law prohibits giving and accepting donations by foreign nationals, but it’s unclear from the video whether the $75 belonged to the Canadian or the Project Veritas journalist.
It is legal for an American citizen to buy campaign paraphernalia and give it to a foreign national. But if the money belonged to the Canadian, then Project Veritas could make the case that the Clinton campaign had indirectly accepted a donation from a foreign national, a breach of campaign finance law.
Dan Pollack, a spokesman for Project Veritas, insisted the video shows the Canadian handing money to the Project Veritas employee.
“If you freeze it at the 2:50 mark you can see the cash on the screen being passed over,” Pollack told TIME. “Without question the Canadian passed the money to the Project Veritas journalist.”
The Clinton campaign adamantly denies any wrongdoing. “This video shows a Project Veritas operative yet again unsuccessfully trying to entrap campaigns staffers who very clearly rejected any foreign donation. Our staffers understand and follow the law, as demonstrated even in their selectively edited video,” said Jesse Ferguson, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign.
If the money did belong to the Canadian woman, Project Veritas could be guilty of breaking the same campaign finance law as the Clinton campaign. According to the law, “it shall be unlawful for a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make a contribution or donation” in connection with any election, and for “a person to solicit, accept, or receive” such donations.
Clinton’s campaign accused Project Veritas of seeking to act illegally to entrap campaign officials while also breaking the law itself on occasion.
“Project Veritas … has been caught trying to commit fraud, falsify identities and break campaign finance law—not surprising, given that their founder has already been convicted for efforts like this,” Ferguson added.