Meet the people bankrolling James O’Keefe’s group

The conservative movement continues to fund Project Veritas, despite its string of failed stings.

James O'Keefe, in 2015.
James O'Keefe, in 2015. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

For the past seven years, conservative operative and convicted criminal James O’Keefe and his Project Veritas have used a mix of selective editing and guerilla filmmaking in a mostly unsuccessful series of attempts to discredit political opponents.

On Monday, their latest “sting” operation exploded in their face when The Washington Post caught on to an operative’s false claims of statutory rape, designed to discredit those actually coming forward with stories of sexual assault and to undermine the paper itself.

Though this is the latest in a string of embarrassments for O’Keefe and his group, both remain well-funded. O’Keefe drew a salary of more than $235,000 in 2015 for his work as chairman of Project Veritas; his executive director received nearly $170,000 over that time. Their organizational revenue for the year was more than $3.7 million.

While Project Veritas does not publicly disclose its donors, ThinkProgress found IRS disclosures for more than a dozen tax-exempt organizations that reported donations to O’Keefe’s group since it received non-profit status in 2011. Another media organization identified an individual major donor a few years ago, which was also included in the analysis.

The largest sources of Project Veritas funding included:

DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund (more than $1 million)

Two donor-advised funds linked to the conservative movement’s most infamous petrochemical billionaires — Charles and David Koch — were the largest identifiable funding stream for Project Veritas. Both collect money from conservative political activists and distribute those funds to nonprofit groups that share their anti-government agenda. Mother Jones has called the affiliated groups the “Dark-Money ATM of the Conservative Movement,” and noted close links between the two funds and the Koch brothers. DonorsTrust, which has sent more than $900,000 to Project Veritas, says it sends funds to groups that “promote the foundations of civil society: limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise.” Donors Capital Fund, which kicked in at least another $170,000, claims to back only pro-liberty groups that back “private initiatives rather than government programs as the solution to the most pressing issues of the day in the areas of social welfare, health, the environment, economics, governance, foreign relations, and arts and culture.” Neither group immediately responded to ThinkProgress inquiries about how Project Veritas met either’s stated requirements.

Dunn’s Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking (at least $100,000)

Commodities trader William A. Dunn founded DUNN Capital, a data-driven asset management firm, in 1974. With his wife Rebecca, he then created a tax-exempt foundation dedicated to bankrolling the anti-government “libertarian” movement — unlike most conservative family foundations, theirs makes clear their purpose in its name. In addition to funding Project Vertias, the foundation has backed the CATO Institute, Pacific Justice Foundation, and Reason Foundation. The foundation did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about its support for O’Keefe.

Eric O’Keefe (at least $50,000)

The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch reported in 2015 that Eric O’Keefe, a longtime anti-government activist who is not related to James O’Keefe, gave Project Veritas a $50,000 donation in 2013. Though at the time he denied making the donation in a phone interview, the group somehow obtained a nonpublic Project Veritas tax document that documented the payment.

A former Libertarian National Committeeman and one-time president of Americans for Limited Terms, Eric O’Keefe is currently a board member for the Wisconsin Club for Growth, Citizens for Self-Governance, and Citizens in Charge. An acolyte of conservative economist Milton Friedman, O’Keefe is a private investor and author. O’Keefe did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about its support for Project Veritas.

Bradley Impact Fund (at least $25,000)

Like DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund, the Bradley Impact Fund is a politically conservative donor-advised fund tied to two wealthy right-leaning brothers. In this case, the fund was created by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit that works to continue the legacy of its deceased founders by donating millions of dollars each years to promote school choice and other conservative causes.

Though the fund claims to support efforts to inform citizens, constitutional order, free markets, and civil society, it has made multiple payments to Project Veritas since 2015. The fund’s president did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about how O’Keefe’s efforts match up with the stated aim of “giving citizens the character, habits, and knowledge they need to succeed in a free society, and helping citizens understand the foundations of such freedoms.”

The Roland Family Foundation (at least $23,700)

Jerry Roland, of Washington Township, New Jersey, is a retired certified public accountant and chief financial officer. He worked in the securities industry for more than 30 years. He used his wealth to found the Roland Family Foundation, which has given $23,700 to Project Veritas since tax year 2013, according to its most recent filings with the Internal Revenue Service.

Roland’s foundation donates to local charities with no political bent, like Washington Township’s volunteer fire department and ambulance corps. Like other private foundations on this list, however, it also supports large organizations that form the bedrock of the country’s conservative movement, including the Heritage Foundation, Judicial Watch, and the Leadership Institute. The foundation did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about its support for O’Keefe.

Donald J. Trump Foundation (at least $20,000)

In October 2016, ThinkProgress reported that the Donald J. Trump Foundation, a controversial tax-exempt bank account controlled (but not typically funded by) then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, gave $10,000 to Project Veritas in 2015. Subsequent filings revealed that it gave an additional $10,000 donation in the same year.

During one of the 2016 presidential debates, Trump claimed new videos proved that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton “hired people” and “paid them $1,500” to “be violent, cause fights, [and] do bad things” at Trump rallies. He based this claim on O’Keefe videos that purportedly showed Clinton supporters bragging about baiting Trump supporters into violent acts (there was no evidence that either Democrat was involved in or aware of the alleged activity).

With this latest botched sting, Project Veritas was targeting the Washington Post, one of Trump’s least favorite news outlets.

The foundation did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about its support for O’Keefe.

Glacs Endowment Fund (at least $15,000)

Garnet Giles owns Kokua Homecare LLC, in Honolulu, Hawaii. His private foundation — apparently named for the first initials of its officers, Garnet Giles, Lois Giles, Amanda Lutz, and Carolyn Nygren — has given $15,000 to Project Veritas since tax year 2012, according to its filings with the IRS. Its most recent tax filing also shows relatively small contributions to such conservative mainstays as the Heritage Foundation, Judicial Watch, and the Media Research Center.

The foundation did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about its support for O’Keefe.

The Foundation for Harmony & Prosperity (at least $12,000)

Central California tomato magnate Chris Rufer founded The Foundation for Harmony & Prosperity to promote the libertarian vision on which he built his business empire. The foundation gave $12,000 to Project Veritas in tax year 2014, according to its filings with the IRS.

The foundation’s website says it works toward a society where “[i]ndividuals will categorically reject the use of all agents—personal, social, or political—who seek to initiate force or fraud on their behalf.”

Reached by phone, Rufer was surprised the 2014 donation to Project Veritas was through his foundation, rather than an individual contribution. Rufer said he’s given the group $5,000 to $10,000 a year in individual donations to since then — money that does not show up on his foundation’s tax filings. While Rufer said he had not heard about the Washington Post sting, he has been impressed by Project Veritas in the past and continues to support their efforts to expose wrongdoing.

“If it’s illegal, it’s not right,” Rufer said. “But catching some of these people doing illegal things is good. The enforcement people don’t do a very good job.”

James F. Causley Jr. Family Foundation (at least $9,000)

James F. Causley Jr. is a retired Buick GMC dealer from Naples, Florida. His private foundation gave $5,000 to Project Veritas in tax year 2014 and another $4,000 in tax year 2015, according to its filings with the IRS. The foundation’s 2016 filing doesn’t show a donation to Project Veritas, but it does show a $40,000 donation to the Heritage Foundation, a $50,000 donation to Judicial Watch, and $40,000 to the Media Research Center. The foundation did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about its support for O’Keefe.

Robert S. and Star Pepper Foundation (at least $5,000)

The private foundation of Robert Pepper — an early pioneer in the field of semiconductors at the University of California-Davis who later lead the telecom behemoth Level One — and his wife Star Pepper donated $5,000 to Project Veritas during tax year 2011, according to its filings with the IRS.

That’s the only donation to Project Veritas in the foundation’s tax records. But it has donated to other conservative causes — including $100,000 to the Heritage Foundation, $25,000 to Judicial Watch, and $30,000 to the Media Research Center in tax year 2016. The foundation did not immediately respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about its support for O’Keefe.