James O’Keefe’s Big-Money Donors Revealed
Tax documents obtained by The Daily Beast reveal the 35 benefactors behind the conservative guerrilla activists at Project Veritas.
James O’Keefe, the conservative provocateur, has managed to make a host of enemies through his surreptitious video sting operations. Through the years, however, he’s managed to rely on a hodge podge of wealthy benefactors that range from prominent Republican donors, to obscure financial types, and even a songwriter who once composed melodies for Barbra Streisand and Christina Aguilera.
O’Keefe’s latest stunt involved a failed attempt to penetrate The Washington Post by having an operative pretend to be impregnated by Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore—a scheme designed to discredit others accusing Moore of sexual assault and misconduct. The effort garnered Project Veritas some bad press, but a look at the group’s tax filings from 2011 to 2013 suggests that O’Keefe does not have much to fear financially.
Documents obtained by The Daily Beast give a deeper glimpse at Project Veritas’s deep-pocketed donors during its first few years in the existence, when O’Keefe was a star in the conservative movement and pulling off some high-profile takedowns—if also some high-profile blunders.
Donors to groups such as O’Keefe’s—which, as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is not required to disclose the sources of its funding—generally remain anonymous. But unredacted annual tax filings obtained by The Daily Beast reveal the names of all 35 individuals and organizations that provided at least $5,000 to Project Veritas from 2011 to 2013.
The group’s most recent tax filing shows that it has consistently boosted its fundraising year-over-year. In 2016, it brought in a record $4.8 million, and upped O’Keefe’s personal compensation to $317,000. But that tax form, like others since 2013, did not contain a full donor list. But past records, with donor lists that generally don’t make it into the public eye, provide a more comprehensive look at Project Veritas’s early finances.
Those records show the group’s high-dollar donations skyrocketed as a percentage of its total financial support in the three years covered. In 2011, Project Veritas reported just two donors above the $5,000 threshold, accounting for just six percent of all contributions that year. Two years later, those deep pockets contributed more than $800,000, or over two-thirds of all contributions.
Previously undisclosed donors listed in Project Veritas’s annual tax filings reviewed by The Daily Beast include Sears Roebuck heiress Nina Rosenwald, an investor and top executive at the William Rosenwald Family Fund. The foundation, and Rosenwald, are major donors to American Jewish and Zionist organizations, and she has also funded a number of conservative political groups and candidates, including more than $80,000 in contributions to Republican political campaigns during the 2016 election cycle.
Another listed donor, Tom Snow, is an accomplished California-based songwriter. He has composed music for Barbra Streisand, Olivia Newton-John, Barry Manilow, Bonnie Raitt, and Christina Aguilera. Snow, who is married to a prominent California conservative activist, is also a Republican political donor, though a less prolific one than Rosenwald. He contributed to Carly Fiorina’s presidential campaign last cycle, and during the 2012 cycle to the presidential campaigns of Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Mitt Romney, according to FEC records.
Efforts to reach Rosenwald and Snow were not successful.
The top donors listed in Project Veritas’s annual filings are Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, both part of the network of political and charitable organizations tied to the billionaire libertarians Charles and David Koch. The two groups steered $541,000 to Project Veritas from 2011 to 2013, but they themselves are not the actual donors. Both act as conduits for other contributors that aren’t listed on Project Veritas’s financials, passing along funds from others who remain anonymous. Though both feature prominently in the group’s tax filings, the Koch political network itself keeps its distance from O’Keefe. Representatives of that network have “refused entreaties from Mr. O’Keefe’s allies to support his groups,” The New York Times reported on Thursday.
The Times also reported that family of billionaire investor Robert Mercer, which donated $25,000 to Project Veritas through a company called Gravitas Maximus LLC, had ceased financial support for Project Veritas due its “ignominious failures.” The Mercers’ contribution was first confirmed by BuzzFeed News.
Though a comprehensive record does not appear to exist for years after 2013, a number of those donors continued contributing to Project Veritas, and additional reporting indicates that charitable foundations in particular stepped up their support for the group.
Project Veritas also landed a contribution from the biggest name in American politics today: Donald Trump, who shares O’Keefe’s distaste for political media. The Times reported that Trump, impressed by Project Veritas’s undercover work, wrote the group a $10,000 check in 2015 and then summoned O’Keefe to his office for an in-person chat.
Toward the end of last year’s presidential election, O’Keefe was invited as a special guest of Trump’s during one of his debates against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. During that debate, Trump specifically referenced a video released by O’Keefe.
Contacted for comment, a Project Veritas spokesman referred The Daily Beast to comments from one of its donors in Thursday’s Times story. Rebecca Walter Dunn, whose husband donated $10,000 in 2013 and whose foundation has continued to support the group, said Project Veritas does “an exceptional job of holding the media and other institutions accountable. For that reason, we will continue to support his work.”
Those efforts to hold the media accountable have backfired. Project Veritas’s most recent sting operation, which attempted to dupe The Washington Post into running a fake story designed to discredit sexual misconduct allegations against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, resulted in a vindication of the Post’s rigorous reporting practices when its reporters quickly discovered the plot.
O’Keefe and his group’s failed stings and derided methods haven’t completely killed their credibility in the broader conservative movement. O’Keefe was honored on Wednesday evening by the right-wing organization United in Purpose, which awarded him their Impact Award. This award, given to individuals the group deems “heroes,” was presented by Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, during a ceremony at Trump International Hotel, just a few blocks away from the White House.