Conservative activist James O’Keefe released another undercover sting video on Monday that he claimed proved Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton illegally coordinated with an outside organisation.
But what O’Keefe considered illegal activity is most likely not, election law experts told Business Insider.
The sting video posted by O’Keefe and produced by his organisation, Project Veritas, showed Democratic operative Bob Creamer claiming Clinton personally wanted activists dressed up as Donald Duck outside of Trump events to promote that he had not released his tax returns.
The group Creamer tasked with carrying out the work was Americans United for Change, a liberal non-profit.
Creamer, who was contracted by the Democratic National Committee over the summer, ceased his involvement with the DNC after a prior sting video posted by O’Keefe last week showed other operatives under Creamer’s purview discussing the inciting of protesters at Republican nominee Donald Trump’s rallies.
“In the end, it was the candidate, Hillary Clinton, the future president of the United States, who wanted ducks on the ground,” Creamer said in the video posted on Monday. “So by God we would get ducks on the ground.”
The Democratic operative also asked the reporter not to repeat to “anybody” and that Clinton “really wanted this duck figure doing this stuff.”
Later in the video, Creamer said Clinton’s deputy communications director Christina Reynolds called him to discuss deployment of the ducks.
“Christina Reynolds calls, saying, ‘I have good news and bad news,'” he said. “‘The good news is the candidate would like to have a mascot following around … Trump. But the bad news is she wants it to be Donald Duck.'”
“My answer is, ‘Christina, if the future president wants ducks, we will put ducks on the ground,'” he added.
O’Keefe claimed that those conversations showed that the Clinton campaign had violated the Federal Election Commission’s rules regarding coordinated communications. He said that Americans United for Change paying someone to wear the Donald Duck outfit at events, and paying for the costume, count as violations of campaign law, since his video alleged that Clinton said she wanted to see the duck mascot.
Only certain communications are considered coordinated, according to the FEC. On its website, it lists four such examples related to a presidential race:
- A public communication that expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate.
- A communication that is an “electioneering communication” as defined in 11 CFR 100.29 (i.e. a broadcast communication that mentions a federal candidate and is distributed to the relevant electorate 30 days before the primary election or 60 days before the general election).
- A public communication that republishes, disseminates or distributes in whole or in part campaign materials prepared by a candidate or a candidate’s campaign committee.
- A public communication made 120 days before a Presidential primary election through the general election and:
- Refers to a clearly identified Presidential or Vice Presidential candidate and is publicly distributed in a jurisdiction before the clearly identified federal candidate’s election in that jurisdiction.
- Refers to a party, is coordinated with a Presidential or Vice Presidential candidate, and is publicly distributed in that candidate’s jurisdiction.
- Refers to a political party, is coordinated with a political party, and is publicly distributed during the Presidential election cycle.
Two election law experts told Business Insider that the rules against this type of coordination generally only apply to paid media advertisements — for example, TV, newspaper, or internet ads.
“The word coordination in the English language means something very different than what it means to the Federal Election Commission,” Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California at Irvine who specialises in campaign finance regulation and election law.
Hasen, who said he did not see the video, and could not speak specifically to it, other than what was described to him, added that the laws are “generally for media advertising, which this doesn’t sound like [the video] necessarily is.”
Brendan Fischer, associate counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, agreed that FEC rules typically apply to media advertising. The example he gave was of a campaign asking a Super PAC to run an ad in a certain media market. That, he said, would be in violation of the FEC regulations.
“Groups can talk to one another,” he said. “That’s not covered by the coordination rules.”
In a statement to Business Insider, the Clinton campaign highlighted how a recent report showed O’Keefe’s own venture, Project Veritas, was funded by Trump’s charitable foundation.
“Wow,” said Zac Petkanas, a Hillary for America spokesman. “The latest so-called blockbuster video from this discredited right wing activist who was funded by Donald Trump’s sham foundation uncovers a legal ploy to highlight that the Republican nominee hasn’t released his tax returns. By the way, did we mention that Donald Trump still hasn’t released his tax returns?”
A recent story in the liberal blog ThinkProgress, which drew on a Washington Post database, revealed that Trump’s foundation gave $10,000 to Project Veritas on May 13, 2015.
Project Veritas is a non-profit that is in the same 501 C-4 classification as Americans United for Change. Last week, O’Keefe was invited by the Trump campaign to be a guest at the final presidential debate, and was later available in the spin room following the Las Vegas event.
In addition, O’Keefe has previously gotten into hot water for his practices. In 2010, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanour for posing as a phone repairman to enter New Orleans office of Mary Landrieu, then a Louisiana senator. In 2013, he settled a suit for $100,000 after editing a recording with an Acorn employee who later lost his job.
Late Monday night, the Trump campaign said what the video showed was “disqualifying” for Clinton’s candidacy.
“In a totally disqualifying act that is a violent threat to our democracy, Hillary Clinton directly involved herself in inciting violence directed at Trump supporters,” said spokesman Jason Miller. “[T]he Trump Campaign demands a full and immediate investigation into the acts of violence that the Clinton campaign and the DNC have incited on American voters.”
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