O’Keefe organization’s undercover attempt on Ohio think tank fails

October 27, 2011 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

In an effort to influence the debate over Ohio’s union-busting legislation, Senate Bill 5, that voters appear ready to repeal on Nov. 8, conservative activist James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas attempted to make one of the Buckeye State’s most respected think tanks the target of one of its latest “investigations.”

Amy Hanauer, executive director of the group Policy Matters Ohio, took a call two weeks ago she found to be strange. On the other end of the line was a man who claimed to be named Luke Fowler who said he was representing a wealthy man named Peter Harmon from the Ohio Education Association, a teachers union that represents “130,000 teachers, faculty members and support professionals who work in Ohio’s schools, colleges and universities,” according to their website.

Fowler claimed Harmon was interested in funding a research project that would influence the debate over Issue 2, the statewide veto referendum that will determine the fate of SB5. Fowler then immediately began pressing Hanauer to say she could produce the results Harmon was looking for in the research.

“He said that he wanted to be sure it would help the teachers and help the kids,” Hanauer told The American Independent. “It was just an odd kind of call, and it didn’t seem reasonable to me. He was clearly trying to get me to say that we would be biased.”

Before ending the call, Fowler provided an email address for Harmon, one supposedly associated with the Ohio Education Association. However, the email address was not associated with the teachers union, and the web address attached to the email is actually a domain owned by one of Project Veritas’ employees.

Hanauer said her organization became a target because of the research it has done, and the impact it has had on the debate about collective bargaining for public employees in Ohio.

Her organization has produced reports that found states without collective bargaining have no better budget situation than Ohio. Another study (PDF) found that public sector workers in Ohio are paid less than their private sector counterparts who share similar levels of experience and education.

“People generally recognize that the research we do can’t be questioned. It’s very high quality research,” said Hanauer. “We do high quality research that’s been cited in this debate a lot.”

As for being a target of O’Keefe, Hanauer views it as an “badge of honor,” although she doesn’t hold O’Keefe, his organization or its style of investigation in very high regard.

“I find James O’Keefe pretty silly and I found this guy who called to be pretty silly,” she added.