April 20, 2024

Conservative Group Wins Nonprofit Status From I.R.S.

Project Veritas, a group founded by the videographer James O’Keefe, received the status from the I.R.S. in April, according to documents gathered by The Chronicle of Philanthropy through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“It will help us expand as an organization and institution,” Mr. O’Keefe said in an interview on Thursday.

He said the money saved with the status would help Project Veritas train and equip “an army” of citizen journalists to carry out its mission: “to investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud and other misconduct in both public and private institutions in order to achieve a more ethical and transparent society.”

The organization applied for tax exemption in August and received one request for further information from the I.R.S. before it granted approval. The Chronicle of Philanthropy has posted all of the documents the tax agency gave it, along with analysis.

Mr. O’Keefe catapulted onto the national stage in 2009 when, armed with a hidden camera and accompanied by a partner dressed as a prostitute, he caught Acorn workers on tape offering advice about how to finance a brothel.

His next turn in the limelight came last year when he and three other men were charged with entering the New Orleans offices of Senator Mary L. Landrieu, a Democrat, with the purpose of committing a felony. They pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.

In March, NPR’s top fund-raising executive, Ronald Schiller, resigned after Mr. O’Keefe’s group caught him on tape telling two people posing as Muslim philanthropists that supporters of the Tea Party were “seriously racist, racist people.” A day later, Vivian Schiller, who is unrelated, stepped down as chief executive.

In its application, Project Veritas said it planned to pursue as many as a half-dozen journalism projects and conduct five two- to three-day training sessions for people interested in learning how to do such projects on their own. “I can’t tell you the secret sauce of it, but we do have a training method,” Mr. O’Keefe said. “There are many people learning this method and learning how to expose abusive power in creative ways.”

He said he would work as the organization’s “muckraker in chief,” for which he will be paid about $120,000 a year, according to the group’s application.

It raised $2,367 last year, according to the filing, and expects that figure to grow to $1.65 million over the next three years, though Mr. O’Keefe described that as “a sort of dream.” The group has hired a firm led by Richard Viguerie, a conservative strategist, to help it raise money.

Charities are constrained by law from participating in lobbying and political campaigns, and in response to a question posed by the I.R.S., Project Veritas specifically said it had no plans to lobby on behalf of specific legislation.“We’re designed to expose malfeasance, waste, fraud and corruption, to expose things for what they are,” Mr. O’Keefe said. “That’s not policy work, that’s educational work.”

Jeffrey S. Tenenbaum, a lawyer specializing in nonprofit matters, looked at the Project Veritas Web site and said he could see nothing that would cause the group to run afoul of the rules on politicking.

“Project Veritas’s leading stories have a certain direction in which they lean, and they could all be used by this organization and others for lobbying campaigns or even political campaign activities,” Mr. Tenenbaum said. “But in and of themselves, the things I saw on the Web site don’t do that.”

Paul Streckfus, a former I.R.S. official who edits The EO Journal, a newsletter that follows legal and accounting issues affecting nonprofit groups, noted that several such organizations lean to one side or the other of the political spectrum, including the Heritage Foundation, the Brookings Institution and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

“This new organization,” Mr. Streckfus said, “is not that different from any of those, it seems to me.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=7f73167c7e5fa0e874adfdd1dd1e08f1

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