Pro-Union Professor, Economic Policy Institute Appear to Collude: ‘If It’s Something You Don’t Want Published, We’ll Kill It’

In a new undercover investigation, my colleague James O’Keefe and I reveal the apparent collusion between Ohio public sector unions and their purportedly “objective” allies in media and academia as they try to undermine public support for new labor reforms.

Union front groups We Are Ohio (WAO) and Progress Ohio are currently promoting a “no” vote on Issue 2, which is a referendum on Ohio’s Senate Bill 5, to be held on Election Day 2011 (November 8). SB 5 requires public employees to contribute a modest amount more towards their benefits, to close the gap somewhat with their private sector counterparts.

In attempting to defeat SB 5, union advocates have loudly trumpeted a study by Rutgers Professor Jeffrey Keefe that claims that public employees already earn less private sector workers do in comparable jobs.

For instance, Jeff Bell of Columbus Business First reported that when inquiring about public employees’ superior pay and benefits, WAO spokeswoman Melissa Fazekas “quickly steered [him] to a study on the compensation issue completed this year by Jeffrey Keefe.”

However, Jason Richwine of the Heritage Foundation and Andrew Biggs (no relation to Jax) of the American Enterprise Institute have found Keefe’s study to be, in Biggs’ words, “a piece of junk.”

In their own September 14th study, Richwine and Biggs conclude that while public employees receive 2.5 percent less in wages than their private counterparts, “when pay and benefits are taken into consideration public workers received 31.2 percent more in total compensation.” When other factors are taken into account, such as job security, “Ohio public-sector workers are paid 43.4percent more.” Richwine and Biggs conclude that under SB 5, public employees would still maintain this edge over private sector workers.

Keefe also works for the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a Washington, DC think tank that boasts that it is “beholden to no one; we say what we think is true regardless of who might not want to hear it.” The EPI also claims that it “conducts research according to the rigorous standards of objectivity,” and “provides data … that allows for a clear, unbiased understanding of the economy’s effect on the living standards of working Americans.”

James and I had an agent at Project Veritas contact Keefe, posing as “Chris Fowler,” a researcher for a hedge fund manager who had chosen to work alongside the Ohio Education Association. “Fowler” offered Keefe a commission in exchange for authoring a study showing that cuts to education and collective bargaining “rights” hurt students, emphasizing that “if [EPI] find[s] evidence contrary to what our intended outcome is, we just, we want to make sure that they will omit that kind of data,” to which Keefe responded reassuringly, “Oh, what they’ll do, is they’ll not publish it … We’re not going to change the results of any study, but if it’s something you don’t want published, we’ll kill it.”

Shortly thereafter, I approached Keefe at a public symposium on SB 5 at the University of Toledo. I offered him an opportunity to defend his standards of objectivity, and, subsequently, to explain the phone call.

Keefe began by assuring that he had not and “never would” accept what I described as a “pay for play deal in which [he would] agree to kill any research that didn’t support a pro-union conclusion,” explaining that it was “the interviewer [who] said that” [emphasis mine].

However, at no point during the phone call did Keefe decline the deal. In fact, the word “kill” was not the interviewer’s. It was his–specifically.

I then asked Keefe if he “would not accept a pay-for-play deal,” to which he responded: “Never, in fact what I told the interviewer is they had to go bargain with the EPI, not me.” That is true. He did advise our agent that his compensation would be worked out with the EPI, but under the apparent implicit understanding he would be the one commissioned, explaining, “[the EPI] bring a lot of resources to the table that’s very helpful for me to do this work.”

When I read him the EPI mission statement, asserting that it “conduct[s] research according to rigorous standards of objectivity,” Keefe affirmed it, saying, “Absolutely.”

Yet during the phone call, Keefe had emphasized how it is “important to do business with policy institutes rather than academics,” laughingly noting that “[a]cademics believe in publish or perish … no matter what the outcome is.” He reassured us that “Policy institutes have an policy agenda … The thing about EPI is when they publish something, it’s highly reliable and credible, but if it’s contrary to what you want, and what they want, they just, they pay for it, and they kill it.”

Earlier in the call, Keefe recommended that our caller contact EPI President Larry Michele and Policy Matters Ohio executive director Amy Hanauer, which he did, offering the same deal. Sam Stein of The Huffington Post reported, after hearing from both of them, that both had declined the deal offered by our interviewer, with Hanauer explaining: “They were fishing for us to say we would release it if it had a pro-union point of view or kill it if it didn’t.” Michel added, “I told him, you know, you can’t buy results.”

Policy Matters Ohio released a statement claiming to be “amused” by our “trying to get [their] director, Amy Hanauer to reveal a desire to deliver biased research,” adding: “Policy Matters is not for sale. We do unassailable research.”

We commend Hanauer and Policy Matters Ohio for maintaining their integrity, but their deserved self-vindications do not make the situation any less awkward for Keefe or EPI.

Worse, like mosquitoes to a bug-zapper, mouthwatering liberal media flocked to Stein’s incomplete narrative. Deriding our investigation as a “ratfucking” effort, Huffington’‘s Dan Mirvish accused James of getting “caught with his pants down.” David Dayen of Jane Hamsher‘s FireDogLake mocked it, facetiously describing it as “a brilliant plan.” Joseph Anonymous of liberal Ohio blog Plunderbund, advised us: “Consider this your notice, boys. Everyone in Ohio is on to your scam.” Laura Clawson of Daily Kos wrote: “Calling [James] on it before he has the chance? That’s pretty awesome.”

What is even more “awesome” is calling these critics out on their rush to judgment before all the evidence had been presented.

Most unfortunate was Stein’s decision to fire the starting gun. He has made it relevant for us to include allegations about his own journalistic methods that were made by a former tutor of his, which we discovered in the course of our investigation.

Columbia journalism professor Dale Maharidge told an undercover Veritas reporter, admiringly, that Stein “goes out drinking at night with people. Real reality, not virtual reality. He gets booze in people, and suddenly the stories flooooww.”

More will be revealed in Project Veritas’s upcoming series, “To Catch a Journalist.” Stay tuned.

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