James O’Keefe has just released the latest of his long-running series of intentionally deceitful videos. In this episode O’Keefe returns to one of his favorite themes: harassing civic-minded volunteers who commit their time to registering voters and honoring America’s tradition of democracy. If there is one thing that extremist conservatives like O’Keefe hate, it’s people participating in the electoral process or helping others to do so. Especially if they are minorities, the poor, and other disenfranchised citizens.
The new video purports to have captured illegal activity engaged in by volunteers for Battleground Texas, a local organization that promotes voter participation. O’Keefe’s hidden camera records a volunteer named Jennifer Longoria describing a part of the process for engaging voters and encouraging them to turn out on election day. Longoria explains that Battleground Texas keeps contact information gathered from the voter registration forms they collect. It is this practice of saving names and phone numbers that O’Keefe alleges is illegal.
The only problem with O’Keefe’s allegation is that it is utterly false. What O’Keefe did was to clip a portion of the Texas election code that says “The registrar may not transcribe, copy, or otherwise record a telephone number furnished on a registration application.” What he either fails to understand, or is deliberately misrepresenting, is that this section of the law applies only to the Registrar of Voters and other county officials. It does not apply to the volunteers or organizations that distribute and collect voter registration forms. In fact, the Texas Secretary of State website addresses this matter directly in their “Frequently Asked Questions” for volunteers:
Q: May I photocopy a completed application before turning it in to the county voter registrar?
A: No. Section 13.004(c-1) of the Code requires the county voter registrar to ensure that certain information, such as the telephone number, on a registration application is redacted from photocopies of voter registration applications from her office. In our opinion, this means that a photocopy of an application must come directly from the county voter registrar’s office, so that he or she may ensure the required information has been blacked out or otherwise obscured. With that said, we believe that a volunteer deputy registrar may photocopy the receipt. You may also copy the relevant information from the application in writing just as you would be able to do if you went to the registrar’s office and pulled a copy of the original application.
So actual photocopies are not allowed, but manually recording the data is expressly permitted. And that’s all that Battleground Texas is doing. The purpose of the applicable code is to prohibit confidential voter information from being published or otherwise made public by people on the government payroll who could have motive and opportunity to abuse their power. But Battleground Texas is not a government agency, nor are they publishing any of the data. Also, the information defined as confidential is specified in the code and includes things like the social security number and driver’s license number, but not the phone number.
The fact that James O’Keefe is thoroughly shredding the most basic standards of ethical journalism should not surprise anyone. His previous escapades have resulted in his arrest and conviction in a Louisiana senator’s office, and a legal order to pay a $100,000 settlement to a former ACORN employee he defamed. He himself has broken voter registration laws in a failed attempt to defend suppressive voter ID legislation. And let’s not forget his sleazy plot to seduce a CNN reporter aboard his “Love Boat,” or harassment allegations by a former associate that he tried to drug and kidnap her. His videos have been criticized by a broad array of media analysts for editing that blatantly misrepresents reality. Even Glenn Beck condemned his deceptive tactics.
However, what is truly disturbing is that, after having established a reputation as a shameless scam artist, there are still media outlets that provide a platform for his lies. Almost as soon as O’Keefe posted the new video it was picked up by Fox News on their Fox Nation website. From there it was swept up into the conservative media vortex that includes National Review, Breitbart News, WorldNetDaily, NewsBusters, FreedomWorks, The Daily Caller, Townhall, Human Events, TeaPartyOrg, and conspiracy kingpin Alex Jones’ Infowars.
Despite sensationalistic headlines about “Busted Dems,” none of these so-called news enterprises bothered to actually look into the law and ascertain whether a violation had occurred. They have simply taken the word of a known purveyor of falsehoods. That’s because their role is to distort and confuse rather than to inform. And that’s why O’Keefe can always find an outlet through the wingnut-o-sphere to peddle his phony investigations that invariably attack disadvantaged Americans and are a coordinated part of the Republican war on voting. The state of Texas has one of the lowest rates of voter participation in the nation, and O’Keefe and his GOP allies want to keep it that way.