The Oregon Republican Party filed a complaint with the state's ethics commission on Wednesday, asking for an investigation into whether Democratic Gov. Kate Brown used public funds for campaign purposes after a video from a conservative activist surfaced.
James O'Keefe, founder of the nonprofit Project Veritas, is best known for unscrupulous tactics like videotaping people without their knowledge and publishing the results in an attempt to expose his targets — usually left-leaning groups and candidates. O'Keefe released what appeared to be secretly recorded videos of Michael Kolenc, who was Brown’s former campaign manager.
O’Keefe and Project Veritas have received national attention and critique, including after they hired a woman to lie to Washington Post reporters about being impregnated by Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. Their goal was to discredit the Washington Post’s reporting on the subject. Several woman accused Moore of molesting them when they were teenagers and he was an adult.
Project Veritas' mission is to investigate “corruption, dishonesty, waste and fraud in both public and private institutions,” according to their website.
The group’s involvement in the Oregon gubernatorial race is another sign that national right-wing groups are hoping to oust Brown this November. The Republican Governors Association has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the race to help state Rep. Knute Buehler.
Kolenc was reportedly fired in 2016 for mismanaging Brown's campaign budget. In the video, he accused Brown of mismanaging state agencies.
“Michael Kolenc is a disgruntled and discredited political operative who was fired years ago and moved to Texas. There’s nothing new in any of his griping that this sham group caught on hidden camera,” said Jeanne Atkins, chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon.
Kolenc was caught on tape telling Project Veritas’ staffer that Brown’s then-chief of staff Kristen Leonard wanted to “be in charge of everything” and was violating the law by being involved in both Brown’s official capacity and her campaign side.
State law prohibits public employees from being involved in the campaign side “while on the job during working hours.” But public employees often do work on campaigns outside of their public role.
Brown’s campaign dismissed the video.
“Every single claim in this desperate alt-right propaganda is wrong,” said Christian Gaston, a spokesman for Brown’s campaign wrote in an email, adding they were brought in to "bail out Knute Buehler's campaign."
Buehler’s campaign said they had nothing to do with the video.
“These reports show a clear pattern of unethical behavior and misuse of public funds. This is particularly concerning since her predecessor (Gov. John Kitzhaber) resigned under an ethical cloud of similar allegations,” said Oregon Republican Party Chair Bill Currier in a statement. “Voters deserve a full investigation and to know the truth prior to the November election.”
Kolenc could not be reached for comment.