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Federal Jury Verdict: Project Veritas Broke Wire-Tapping Laws

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Federal Jury Verdict: Project Veritas Broke Wire-Tapping Laws

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Project Veritas, a right-leaning media organization frequently accused of using deceptive methods, has been ordered to pay $120,000 to a Democratic lobbying group that accused it of violating wiretapping laws and fraudulently misrepresenting itself. The decision, which was announced Thursday, September 23, 2022, awarded the money to Democracy Partners, a left-leaning political consulting firm that worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. 

The Democracy Partners Lawsuit

At the heart of the lawsuit is the question of whether or not Project Veritas was engaging in investigative journalism or illegal fraud and wiretapping. 

In July of 2016, a Project Veritas operative posed as a man named Charles Roth, allegedly a wealthy donor who approached Democracy Partners with the goal of donating to a progressive group with ties to Democracy Partners co-founder Robert Creamer. After making this connection, another Project Veritas operative posed as Roth’s niece, who secured an unpaid internship with Democracy Partners using a fake name and résumé. 

While working there, the intern (real name Allison Maass) recorded conversations and obtained documents. Project Veritas used this information to create videos implying that the liberal organization planned to commit voter fraud and incide violence at rallies for Donald Trump. 

Court documents say that Roth proposed a voting scheme to Creamer, who then “rejected it outright as illegal.” The scheme involved registering out-of-state voters and undocumented immigrants by using addresses of foreclosed properties. 

According to the lawsuit, Democracy Partners lost money ($50,000 in contracts) due to the deceptive Project Veritas materials. 

Project Veritas plans to appeal the verdict. A lawyer for Project Veritas says that the videos were newsworthy and the lawsuit is “sour grapes.”

While the group claims to be dedicated to classic investigative undercover journalism, the judge said that Democracy Partners was allowed to refer to Project Veritas’s tactics as a “political spying operation.” 

A History of Legal Troubles

This is not the first time that Project Veritas has courted controversy or legal obstacles. 

In August of 2022, two lawsuits were filed against the company by a former employee related to the terms of her exit. These lawsuits painted a picture of Project Veritas’s inner workings, including:

  • A “highly sexualized” work culture
  • Common drug and alcohol use during the day
  • Employees working additional hours without additional pay

According to The New York Times, federal prosecutors are investigating to determine whether they played a role in stealing a diary belonging to President Joe Biden’s daughter Ashley. Project Veritas denies any wrongdoing. 

In November of 2017, a woman approached the Washington Post with a story about being impregnated as a teenager by Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore. The Post, suspicious about the source’s claims that seemed to contain contradictions, never published the story. Post reporters later saw her spending time at the Project Veritas offices, and Project Veritas refused to comment on the story. Post executive editor Martin Baron said that he believed the woman’s story “was the essence of a scheme to deceive and embarrass us.” His team made the unorthodox decision to publish off-the-record comments made by the source.

“The intent by Project Veritas clearly was to publicize the conversation if we fell for the trap,” Baron said. “Because of our customary journalistic rigor, we weren’t fooled, and we can’t honor an ‘off-the-record’ agreement that was solicited in maliciously bad faith.”

In 2010, Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe was convicted of a misdemeanor for using a fake identity to enter a federal building as part of another sting operation. 

The group rose to prominence by infiltrating the offices of ACORN, a community organizing and voter registration organization. O’Keefe filmed Juan Carlos Vera, an ACORN employee, without his consent. O’Keefe edited the footage and released a video, wherein Vera seems to support smuggling young women into the country so they can work as prostitutes. In the aftermath of the controversy, ACORN was dissolved.

In 2013, O’Keefe was ordered to pay Vera $100,000 for surreptitiously recording him without permission. Vera said that as soon as O’Keefe left the office after proposing the prostitute scheme, Vera called police. He said that videos of him seeming to go along with the plan were an effort to ensnare O’Keefe and his associate, whom he suspected was breaking the law. 

Image credit: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Image caption: James O'Keefe speaking with attendees at the 2018 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida.

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