PORTLAND, Maine — A conservative activist who caused a recent stir by releasing two secretly taped videos he claims highlight Maine’s vulnerability to welfare fraud will make a public appearance in Maine next month.
James O’Keefe, founder of Project Veritas, will be the guest lecturer at an event hosted by Americans For Prosperity-Maine on Friday, Sept. 16, at the University of Southern Maine.
Americans For Prosperity is a national organization based in Washington, D.C. funded largely by the Koch Brothers. Most states have affiliated chapters, and Maine’s currently is headed by Carol Weston, a former Republican lawmaker from Montville in Waldo County.
O’Keefe, 26, identifies as an investigative journalist and filmmaker and is perhaps best known for his 2009 videos that exposed suspected fraud within ACORN, a citizen-led voting rights organization. Hailed by some, he also has faced criticism for his deceptive tactics.
In both videos, an actor tried to apply for social service benefits and was ultimately denied, but some felt the videos depict a susceptibility to fraud.
Americans For Prosperity-Maine and the Maine Heritage Policy Center partnered to unveil footage of the Biddeford video, which it claimed contained “explosive evidence to potential fraud and abuse.”
After the release of that video, Maine Gov. Paul LePage thanked the individuals who recorded the footage but concluded that it failed to show fraud. The governor did, however, say that the video showed poor customer service and poor time management on the part of the DHHS staffer in the Biddeford office.
The second video elicited less of a response.
LePage has been firm in his belief that Maine’s welfare system needs an overhaul, including a stronger emphasis on fraud detection. At a town hall meeting in Presque Isle last week, the governor called on DHHS to increase the number of employees devoted to rooting out abuse and called out his predecessor’s administration for failing to take the problem seriously.
Others, however, have accused O’Keefe and Republicans for focusing the spotlight on a problem that is not widespread. Last week, Maine People’s Alliance Director Jesse Graham called out the video’s producers and supporters for wasting the time of state workers during these “stings.”
“O’Keefe and the Maine Heritage Policy Center should be ashamed of themselves for wasting the time of public employees all the way from the DHHS office in Biddeford to the governor himself,” Graham said.
Anyone interested in attending O’Keefe’s talk next month can reserve tickets online at http://www.americansforprosperity.org.