Thursday, October 9, 2014

In hidden-camera videos, Grimes supporters undercut her coal stand; campaign says they're not on staff

By Anthony Pendleton
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes is the latest target of undercover video operator James O’Keefe, who has made a name for himself by going after Democrats and liberal activists.

On Monday, O’Keefe’s Project Veritas Action released a hidden-camera video of Grimes campaign supporters that undercut Grimes’ strong advocacy of the troubled coal industry. Her campaign said none of the people are on its payroll.

In the nearly five-minute long video, the Grimes supporters has to say she supports coal because, as Juanita Rodriguez said, “In Kentucky, if you don’t support the coal industry, you’re dead – politically.” Rodriguez adds that politics is “a lying game, unfortunately.” The video identifies her as an “operative” of the Warren County Democratic Party in Bowling Green.

Former state auditor Crit Luallen is shown saying that Grimes has “just gotta do what she’s gotta do to get elected.” Luallen also says “Obama’s regulatory policies have had the impact totally restricting what coal can do.” She also suggests that the issue shouldn't be so big: “Between the market forces and what he’s already done, this is not like a big hook hanging over our heads.”

In a telephone interview, Luallen said, “It's my understanding that the campaign has said no one in that video had been authorized to speak for her. They were volunteers, they were activists, none of them were paid staff.” She added, “I deeply resent being secretly recorded. And this is a kind of underhanded tactic that is unnecessary in the campaign environment and doesn't serve the positive public discourse that needs to happen in the campaign.”

Luallen said in an email to the Bowling Green Daily News, “I’ve known Alison a long time and I know she cares deeply about coal miners, their families and their futures.”

Ziya Smallens, whom the video identifies as a field organizer at a “Louisville Democratic office,” says in the video, “You can’t be a statewide politician and condemn coal. You can’t. You’re not gonna win.”

O’Keefe says in the video that he sent his “reporters into the Grimes campaign,” and to “Grimes campaign offices across the state,” but most if not all of the locations appear to be offices of the Democratic Party, not the Grimes campaign.

Asked about that in an interview, O'Keefe said, "That's where her campaign activities are carried out, were in these offices. So whether they're staffers or campaign workers or officials associated with the campaign - that's sorta why we used that language."

In an email, Grimes campaign press secretary Charly Norton said, “None of the individuals in the video are on our staff.”

However, it appears Smallens may have been a member of the Grimes campaign in the past. On Tuesday, his LinkedIn profile said he was a field organizer for the campaign. One of the duties Smallens listed was being in charge of or helping with “training volunteers to organize their own communities.”

O’Keefe said in a telephone interview that he described Smallens as a field organizer because “they characterized that they were working for the campaign, in the capacity as field organizer.”

On Wednesday, Smallens’s LinkedIn profile had been updated and all mentions of the Grimes campaign had been removed. Less than an hour after an email was sent to Smallens seeking comment for this story, his profile had been completely deleted.

No payments to Smallens or another person the video identifies as a “Grimes field organizer,” Chase Sanders, are listed in payments made by the Grimes campaign in its reports through June 30. Smallens’ LinkedIn profile said he started work in June. Another campaign-spending report, for the third quarter, is due Oct. 15.

On Tuesday, Project Veritas Action released a second video, showing Grimes campaign donor Niko Elmaleh of New York City in a bar, saying of the coal indstry that Grimes will “[expletive] ‘em as soon as she gets elected.”

After the release of the first video on Monday, Sen. Mitch McConnell’s campaign spokeswoman, Allison Moore, said in a press release, “The fact Grimes has not denounced campaign staffers who say she’s anti-coal is just the latest proof that Obama’s Kentucky candidate is no more interested in defending this industry than she was the day she lied about raising the subject at a Harry Reid fundraiser.”

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, is the Senate majority leader. In 2008, he said “Coal makes us sick.” In June, Grimes said she would defend the industry at a private fundraiser Reid sponsored for her, but in her 11-minute speech, she never said the word “coal.” She said afterward that she raised the issue with Reid privately.

Grimes has said that unlike McConnell, she believes in global warming and climate change, "but I think that we have to address, especially, leaving this world in a better place in a balanced manner. We’ve got to keep the jobs that we have here in this state, especially our good coal jobs, fight for them. But we have to diversify our economies in Eastern and Western Kentucky."

On Wednesday morning, after the release of the second video, the Republican Party of Kentucky released a statement calling on Grimes to return the money her campaign received from Elmaleh. He donated $2,600 – the maximum amount for a single election – in June.

O’Keefe says in the video that it is “the beginning of a nationwide undercover investigation into the upcoming election.”

O’Keefe is the head of Project Veritas Action – a non-profit “social welfare organization” organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. According to the Internal Revenue Service, the main requirement to be classified as a 501(c)(4) is to “operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community.” That has been interpreted to mean that such groups are within the law if they spend half or less of their money on politics.

O’Keefe first gained fame, and is mainly known, for a series of hidden-camera videos released in 2009 that helped to bring down the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. In those videos, ACORN employees offer advice to O’Keefe and Giles on how to evade tax laws. The video gained attention because it showed O”Keefe and Giles dressed as a pimp and prostitute in certain parts. It was discovered nearly a year later that the two were not in costume in the ACORN offices as originally thought.

Although it took nearly a year to catch O’Keefe’s deceitful conduct the first time, it took less than a day the second time. O’Keefe and three others were arrested by the FBI in January 2010 for breaking into Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office. All four were initially charged with “entering federal property under false pretenses and with the intent of committing a felony.” Their sentences were dropped to misdemeanors; O’Keefe served three years of probation and 100 hours of community service.

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