Project Veritas — now in the headlines for a bungled sting of The Washington Post — has been soliciting donations in Utah even though the state stripped it of a permit needed to allow such fundraising.
For example, Dan Harrie — The Salt Lake Tribune’s editor of government and politics — received solicitations by email from the group for at least 19 months, including a flurry since its run-in with The Post. Harrie said he has no idea how he landed on its email list.
Harrie also did not know that such solicitations may violate Utah law until The Post reported that Utah and Mississippi had stripped the group of licenses needed to raise money because of a criminal conviction by its chief, James O’Keefe.
Russell Verney, executive director of Project Veritas, said Harrie would have had to sign up personally for emails from the group — or someone else signed up using his name. He said it has no way to know if email-only registrations come from Utahns, so any violation of state law with emails to Harrie or others was inadvertent.
He adds that donors must provide their address to the group when they give it any money, and contributions that Project Veritas receives from Utah are returned to comply with state law.
The situation provides another twist for the group that The Post said appears to have attempted to embarrass it with a woman falsely telling the paper that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore impregnated her when she was a teenager. The Post checked out her story, found it was false and discovered ties between her and Project Veritas.
That group is known for secretly recording conversations in an attempt to embarrass liberal targets.
In 2013, the Utah Division of Consumer Protection refused to renew the group’s status as a registered charitable organization — which is necessary to legally seek donations in the state.
Documents show the division ruled that O’Keefe, the group’s chief, had been “convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude” for a misdemeanor stemming from entering the office of then-Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., in New Orleans under false pretenses to attempt to film activities there.
State documents also say O’Keefe made misrepresentations to Utah officials about that event — first stating that others pretending to be phone repairmen in Landrieu’s office were not part of Project Veritas, only to admit later that they were but that “they went off script.”
Utah officials also complained that the initial application filed in 2011 by Project Veritas “did not disclose O’Keefe’s misdemeanor conviction and did not even include O’Keefe on the list of officers, directors, trustees and executives of the organization.” They said that amounted to attempting to obtain a permit by misrepresentation.
The state warned the group that soliciting donations in Utah without the registration that was denied “is a violation of the [Utah] Charitable Solicitations Act … which carries both civil and criminal penalties.”
Among penalties allowed by that law are division administrative fines of up to $500 per violation or up to $10,000 for any series of violations “arising out of the same operative facts.” It allows state courts to impose fines of up to $2,000 for each violation and civil penalties “or any other relief the court considers just.”
Of note, the New York attorney general warned Thursday that his state may also revoke the ability of Project Veritas to solicit donations there. He gave the group until Dec. 14 to explain why it failed to disclose O’Keefe’s conviction and had other omissions on records submitted to the state.
Jennifer Bolton, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Commerce, said the division seeks enforcement only when it receives complaints. She also said it does not disclose whether it receives them, but will make public any actions resulting from them.
Harrie said he does not plan to file a complaint, but sought to make public that the group was at least soliciting him and perhaps other Utahns. He’s received nearly a solicitation a day from it since The Post published its story about the sting.
One on Tuesday from O’Keefe asked, “Can I count on you for a donation of just $26 — or even $52 — to Project Veritas so my team can continue the hard-hitting investigations that are rattling the mainstream media to their core?”
Harrie said he has no recollection of ever signing up for emails from Project Veritas. But Verney said, “In order to be on our list, he has to have signed up or somebody signed him up.”
He added, “Whoever signed him up, whether it’s somebody on staff or just somebody that thought he didn’t get enough junk mail, it was not us. We don’t sign up people to our list randomly.”
Verney says he doubts Harrie’s name could have come from lists of donors sometimes rented from other organizations. “You could use that list one time to send a message to that person. If that person responded to you, then you can continue. They have essentially opted in.”
Verney said people may request newsletters or other information from Project Veritas by providing an email address and then may also receive solicitations. He said the group has no way of knowing if such people are from Utah.
“We had no way of knowing we were violating Utah law. But now that you’ve told me that email addresses ending in ‘sltrib.com’ are in Utah, we will suppress those.”
Verney added, “We do everything we can to comply with the requirements of state and federal government with respect to fundraising.”