Update, 3:33 p.m.: James O’Keefe is a conservative activist who uses undercover cameras to expose what he calls corruption and dishonesty. His efforts, though, have been criticized.
This week, his group, Project Veritas, released a new video that he says shows North Texas “navigators” who are signing up people for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
In the heavily-edited video, the navigators appear to tell a potential consumer to lie about whether he smokes.
At an Urban League of Greater Dallas office, a Project Veritas worker posed as someone who wanted health insurance. He asks for help on an application as to whether he smokes.
The Urban League worker said: “You lie because your premiums will be higher.”
An Urban League co-worker said: “Don’t tell him that. Don’t tell him.”
Then an Urban League worker said: "I always lie on mine."
Here’s the video:
"Waste, fraud and abuse"
The Urban League of Greater Dallas said it has fired the part-time receptionist trainee shown in the video. It also will seek to decertify three workers who were being trained to be navigators.
The Urban League said it does not support "misleading the public or any individual who seeks our assistance."
The group also criticized the undercover nature of O'Keefe's effort.
“We will not sit idly or silently as agenda-driven individuals operating under false pretenses attempt to undermine our efforts to serve those who need it most," the group said in a statement provided to KERA.
O’Keefe says he’s calling out Obamacare “waste, fraud and abuse.”
“This investigation shows just how vulnerable Obamacare is to fraud,” O’Keefe said in a statement on his website. “Taxpayers lose billions due to Medicare fraud and there is a clear possibility of billions more being wasted.”
O’Keefe said more videos regarding his Obamacare investigation will be released in the next few weeks.
"That's a shame that happened"
KERA’s Lauren Silverman reports that the federal government gave outreach groups in Texas $11 million to hire and train navigators. The Urban League of Greater Dallas received less than $400,000.
Community Clinic Los Barrios Unidos in West Dallas also received funds for navigators who help a dozen families daily learn about and enroll in health insurance plans. Joleen Bagwell, director of development and marketing at Barrios Unidos, told KERA that the video isn’t a reflection of navigators across the state and won’t stop their work.
“That’s a shame that happened," Bagwell said. “But as far as we’re concerned it’s business as usual. We are as eager to enroll people in insurance plans that are affordable today as we were yesterday as we were a month ago.”
His videos have been criticized
O’Keefe has been criticized for editing his undercover videos so much that they misconstrue what really took place.
"What he does isn't journalism," Marty Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center at USC's Annenberg School for Communication, told The Wrap in 2011. "It's agitpop, politi-punking, entrapment-entertainment. There is no responsible definition of journalism that includes what he does or how he does it. His success at luring his prey into harming themselves is a measure of how fallible and foolish anyone, including good people, can sometimes be."
O'Keefe gained national attention in 2009 after releasing video recordings featuring ACORN workers making questionable remarks. ACORN worked with poor communities to register voters.
But earlier this year, O’Keefe paid $100,000 to a former ACORN employee in California in order to settle a lawsuit related to his videos. One O’Keefe video appeared to show an ACORN worker agreeing to help O’Keefe and a colleague to smuggle young girls into the U.S. to work as prostitutes, The Los Angeles Times reported.
O’Keefe also gained attention in 2011 for recording a secret video featuring the then-chief NPR fundraiser criticizing conservatives.
Cornyn reacts to Urban League video
Following the release of the new Urban League video, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said he wants President Obama to stop the navigators program.
In a statement on his website, Cornyn said “that the collective actions taken by Obamacare’s agents are yet another broken piece of a deeply flawed system.”
Cornyn spoke on the Senate floor today. (Watch his speech here.)
“We’ve learned that navigators, including those in my home state of Texas, were actively encouraging people to break the law as a process of signing up for the Obamacare exchanges," Cornyn said in his speech. “We need to also dismantle the navigators program before it unleashes a wave of fraud and corruption.”
The Project Veritas cameras captured another interaction in the Urban League's Dallas office.
The undercover Project Vertias worker posing as an enrollee admits to Urban League employees that he doesn't claim all his income on his federal taxes. Urban League employees who were in training to become navigators told him he was supposed to.
"You're supposed to file a percentage," one woman said. "A percent?" he asked, laughing. "Yeah, because you're making money on a cash basis you're supposed to," the worker replied. But then she added this: "Don't get yourself in trouble by declaring it now."
"Yeah, it didn't happen," said a co-worker.
In a statement, the Urban League of Greater Dallas said it has “taken immediate steps” in response to release of the James O’Keefe video but also is investigating “the full context of what occurred.” It says it’s seeking a copy of unedited footage taken during the undercover visits to its offices in Oak Cliff and Irving.
The group also said it had not finished training the three navigators and that their status as trainees “was conveyed to the undercover applicant.” It says, without elaborating, that “corrective comments were made” to him.
“Unfortunately the full context of these comments is not reflected in the video,” it says.
Here are more videos from Project Veritas: