James O'Keefe, the conservative founder of a charity that specializes in undercover videos targeting journalists and liberals, has been personally barred from seeking donations in Florida due to his criminal record, officials said.
The ban is part of a wave of scrutiny by regulators in several states after New York officials threatened last week to prohibit Project Veritas from raising money in that state. The charity did not disclose O'Keefe's 2010 conviction for entering a federal building under false pretenses, as required, New York officials said.
While Project Veritas's deceptive techniques and splashy videos have attracted attention and acclaim from far-right activists, as well as criticism from others, its past problems with regulators have gained little notice. The charity has previously been denied a license to seek donations in Utah, Mississippi, Wisconsin and Maine, records show, due partly to misstatements and failures to disclose O'Keefe's conviction for entering a U.S. senator's office with two men who were posing as telephone repairmen to make a secret recording.
O'Keefe's group has lately drawn attention for another failed operation. A woman working with Project Veritas last month falsely claimed to two Washington Post reporters that U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore impregnated her when she was a teenager. The Post did not publish a story based on her account, but later revealed she was working with Project Veritas and had waged a months-long effort to infiltrate the The Post and other media organizations.
This week, Florida officials said O'Keefe had been banned under a state law preventing those who have committed certain crimes, including fraud, from seeking donations from Floridians.
"We've spoken with the organization and informed them that Mr. O'Keefe's conviction falls within the category of disqualifying offenses under Florida law," said Aaron Keller of Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
It's not clear how much that might curtail Project Veritas's fundraising. The charity brought in $4.8 million in 2016 and has raised millions from large conservative donors.
A spokesperson for the charity declined to comment on the Florida ban, which applies only to O'Keefe and not to the organization. But O'Keefe is the public face of the organization, is in charge of fundraising and has signed email solicitations.
Project Veritas spokesperson Stephen Gordon said O'Keefe's conviction was not disclosed on registration statements in several states, including New York, because O'Keefe was not president of the organization in 2010, the time covered by many of the documents initially submitted.
O'Keefe, however, testified before Utah regulators in 2013 that he had been president since the organization was founded by him in 2010. "I've been an officer of the company since 2010," O'Keefe said. "I was the president of the company . . . in its inception."
In an August 2015 email, the charity's accountant told regulators in Wisconsin the same thing. "Mr. O'Keefe has been president since inception of Project Veritas," accountant Traci Pacailler wrote.
Federal tax filings do not list O'Keefe as president until 2011. Gordon said Thursday that he could not determine precisely when O'Keefe became president.
The timeline could become important in states that are trying to determine whether the charity properly disclosed O'Keefe's conviction – and his role in the organization – when seeking licenses to solicit money. Registration statements submitted to several states for the year 2010 make no mention of O'Keefe, records show.
Some states, like Mississippi, Utah, and Florida, have laws barring people with certain criminal convictions, and the organizations they run, from raising money in those states. Others require disclosure so prospective donors know more about the group.
Gordon said O'Keefe may have erred during the hearing with Utah regulators, who barred the charity from fundraising in 2013 after concluding that O'Keefe had been found guilty of a crime "involving moral turpitude."
"Mr. O'Keefe may or may not have misspoken, but our corporate paperwork is clear: James O'Keefe was neither president nor on the board when Project Veritas was established," Gordon said.