James O’Keefe does something right

We never thought we'd see the day, but his new video is actually legit

Topics: James O'Keefe, Voter Fraud, Voter ID,

James O'Keefe does something rightJames O'Keefe (Credit: AP/Patrick Semansky)

A new video released today by conservative provocateur and self-styled journalist James O’Keefe may do something that no other O’Keefe video thus far has accomplished: Be legit. It actually shows someone getting close to committing voter fraud. While O’Keefe has had tremendous impact, most of it can be attributed to the hysteria his work generates in the conservative media, along with Republican lawmakers’ eagerness to take cues from said media, as was the case with Planned Parenthood. And while the filmmaker has managed to find unquestionable impropriety among low-level field staffers at places like ACORN, he’s yet to get the goods on anyone very senior. He brought down execs at NPR, but that was only because the radio network badly botched the situation. Even Glenn Beck’s website debunked that tape.

And those were the successes. Beyond that, there’s a whole series of laughably bad “bombshells” that completely fizzled. There was the hit on the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein for drinking beer with sources (gasp!); the Occupy Wall Street sting that wasn’t; and a whole series of flops on voter fraud. And then there were O’Keefe’s calamities. These include the time he tried to seduce a CNN reporter onto a boat filled with sex toys; the time he was arrested and charged with a felony (but convicted of only a misdemeanor!); and the time he may have actually committed fraud himself in New Hampshire. There is also this horribly embarrassing music video he made to promote himself.

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But today, O’Keefe — whom, in case it’s not already clear, we are no fans of —  released a video that actually shows the son of Virginia Democratic Rep. Jim Moran, also his field director, give advice about how to commit voter fraud. There are no misleading editing tricks (we watched the full raw video) and Patrick Moran’s comments were detailed, extensive and clear. In light of the video, he resigned immediately, and the campaign sent out a statement saying his actions were “clearly an error in judgment.”

In the video, O’Keefe’s operative approaches Patrick at a Cosi and says he and a friend have a list of 100 names of inactive Democratic voters. His friend wants to drive around in a van and vote for all 100 of them by pretending to be them. Patrick advises against this, saying it’d  be easier and less risky to just use the van to get people to the polls. But when the operative insists — for some extra right-wing catnip, he says he cares about the election so much because his girlfriend needs an abortion — and Moran readily dishes out tips about how to commit identity theft and pose as other people at the polls. He suggests faking utility bills, saying they shouldn’t be too hard to produce, though bank statements would be better. He says it will be harder with the state’s new voter ID law, but still doable. He calls the operative “hardcore” for wanting to try to do it.

Moran doesn’t actually do anything illegal, and he’s speaking hypothetically, but there is no doubt that Moran is advising O’Keefe’s man how to do something illegal. It was right for him to resign and right for the campaign to accept his resignation.

However, the video does not prove anything new about voter fraud or much of anything beyond exposing one staffer on a congressional campaign. It merely discusses methods that could be used to commit voter fraud and shows a Democratic strategist talking about, but not actually engaging in,  fraud. An extensive multi-year investigation conducted by the Department of Justice, which we assume has more resources than O’Keefe’s investigators, found scant evidence of in-person voter fraud. And as Moran says, there are so many easier and less risky ways to get 100 people to the polls than via this scheme.

Still, a small, grudging tip of the hat to James O’Keefe, who finally did something sort of right and exposed something fishy.

Alex Seitz-Wald
Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at aseitz-wald@salon.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

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