Do extreme conservatives pranksters and videographers have no place in New York State either?
Late last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ignited a firestorm of criticism in right-wing media when he told a public radio host that “extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay … have no place in the State of New York.”
Cuomo was referring to the prospects of far-right political candidates in the deeply Democratic Empire State, not the prospects of his own far right constituents. Nevertheless, conservative talkers like Sean Hannity said they were moving out of state, conservative bloggers called for a boycott of state businesses and products, and New York Republicans demanded an apology.
Now James O’Keefe, the conservative activist whose deceptively edited videos helped bring down ACORN and led to the resignation of top brass at National Public Radio, says that Cuomo’s administration is in fact trying to run him out of the state.
O’Keefe’s organization, Project Veritas, has had its headquarters in Westchester County, just north of New York City, since 2011. And O’Keefe says that the state’s Department of Labor is now demanding two and a half years worth of financial and payroll documents and threatening them with a subpoena.
“Despite the fact that Project Veritas’s finances are meticulously maintained to the penny, Governor Cuomo and the New York Department of Labor is on a witch-hunt, demanding all documents and financials since our founding,” reads a post on the group’s website. “This is nothing more than meritless, politically-driven targeting. Governor Cuomo said it himself–we don’t belong in New York.”
According to O’Keefe, the group compiled the requested documents for a meeting scheduled last December. However, compliance officials from the Department of Labor failed to appear.
According to Jennifer Ridgely, a spokeswoman for Project Veritas, the inquiry has to with whether or not employees with the group are classified as full-time or contract labor.
“We just think that this is kind of a fishing expedition where they are not going to find anything,” Ridgely said, a theory she said was bolstered by the governor’s recent comments and the fact that the group airs videos that “the governor would rather keep hidden.”
A spokesman for the state’s Department of Labor said that they are required by law to make sure that businesses pay into an unemployment insurance fund, and that whenever businesses use outside contractors the state requests routine information about those employees. When employers do not respond to multiple requests for information, they must as a matter of law face a subpoena for further information.
O’Keefe has largely left Cuomo and the New York State Democratic Party alone, although in 2012, he attempted to expose the state’s green jobs program by posing as an executive from a business that merely would dig holes and refill them. In the video clip sent around to reporters, a labor leader and a former state lawmaker promise the undercover O’Keefe that he will find a welcome reception for his “work” in Albany. “You know, the Green Jobs Green New York, between us, a lot of it’s bullshit,” the labor leader is quoted as saying.
Now O’Keefe says he may follow the lead of Hannity.
“We really haven’t focused a lot on New York State, but the fact is, we conduct business, we are located in New York State. That is really what this comes down to. Frankly, I am contemplating leaving. I am contemplating going back to New Jersey to not have to deal with this kind of harassment.”
After the ACORN videos, much of O’Keefe subsequent work has failed to have the impact he is looking for, as reporters treat his work with far greater skepticism than they did when he first appeared in 2009. In 2010, O’Keefe plead guilty and was ordered to pay a $1,500 fine stemming from an attempt to break into the office of Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in order to record telephone calls.
When asked if accusing the Cuomo administration of targeting him was a prank as well, O’Keefe said, “You ask me if I am lying to you. I don’t know how to even respond to that. “
The investigation does not appear to be slowing down Project Veritas much, however. Ridgely told The Daily Beast that on Thursday they are planning to release a video of Democrats in Texas, including Wendy Davis, disparaging state Attorney General Greg Abbott, a gubernatorial candidate who is also a paraplegic.
It may be the last investigation the group does from its headquarters in New York, however.
“It is really tough to be a citizen journalist these days, you have extraordinary forces working against you,” said O’Keefe. “The last thing I need are politically motivated audits.”