• Politics

Latest Hillary Clinton Sting Doesn’t Live Up to Its Hype

3 minute read

Conservative provocateur James O’Keefe is charging that Hillary Clinton supporters are allowing “illegal and dirty” foreign contributions, but the claim does not hold up under scrutiny.

As part of an ongoing series of web videos timed to come out just before Election Day, O’Keefe’s Project Veritas Action is arguing that a liberal group backing Clinton took money from someone purporting to be a foreign donor.

Here’s the sting: Project Veritas Action transferred $20,000 from one account of a self-described international financier to Americans United for Change, a non-profit that has ties to Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. O’Keefe calls the transfer “illegal and dirty campaign dealings.”

But that’s not true. As a non-profit under section 501(c)4 of the tax code, Americans United is not barred from taking foreign cash, much to the dismay of good government advocates. It might not look good, but it’s not illegal.

The money transfer also appears to have come in much differently than O’Keefe describes, one reason it did not set off any red flags with Americans United.

O’Keefe has hero status among conservatives for his hidden-camera videos that helped bring down community organizing group ACORN. He similarly has staged sting operations against NPR and got himself charged with trespassing in a botched attempt to tap a senator’s phones. His videos, however, have often proved incomplete or misleading.

In this case, he says he used a shell corporation from Belize to move the cash to Americans United, which shares a consultant with the DNC. An emergency internal audit at Americans United, which for the last week has been the target of O’Keefe’s videos, pulled the receipt for the transfer. The money was received from The Bank of New York Mellon, incorporated at the same address as TIME Magazine’s headquarters in Lower Manhattan. Americans United allowed TIME to review these documents.

What’s more, the Sept. 9 transfer receipt shows that the customer who ordered the money moved is registered in Stamford, Conn. The exact address is used by Veritas executive director Russell J. Verney as his residence on his Connecticut voting registration forms. Verney also lists that address on forms filed with the state of Virginia incorporating Project Veritas. And that shell corporation? It lists its address these days as Verney’s Connecticut home—a far cry from the colony formerly known as British Honduras.

(O’Keefe, however, did route the cash through Heritage Bank in Belize to justify his claims. But the cash was sent from an American address, via an American bank, to an American political group. Even though it’s not illegal, O’Keefe is definitely trying to get his headlines here by claiming this is foreign cash. The documents he released to back up his claim appear to black out the Stamford, Conn., address.)

Americans United, which was clearly duped in many moments into letting Veritas agents into meetings with its senior staff, returned the cash. O’Keefe claimed victory. The group’s chief, Woodhouse, had a different take.

“We returned the money because the last thing we want to be associated with is a character like O’Keefe who has been convicted and successfully sued for his illegal tactics and fraudulent activities,” he said in a statement.

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Write to Philip Elliott at philip.elliott@time.com