PORTLAND – James O’Keefe — famous for his undercover videos aimed at liberal organizations and government agencies — has a surprising source of inspiration.

O’Keefe told about 60 people attending a talk Friday that he follows the advice of the late Saul Alinsky, a liberal generally credited with creating the idea that community organizing is the best route to forcing change.

Alinsky said he used ridicule as a potent weapon and believed the establishment should be made to live up to its own rules, although Alinsky’s aim was to force the government to pay more attention to the needs of the poor.

O’Keefe said he used the same tactics to skewer liberals and expose the potential for fraud in government programs.

O’Keefe is best known in Maine for sending in an actor, who strongly suggests he’s a wealthy drug dealer, to Medicaid offices seeking benefits.

His first video, released this summer, showed a worker in Biddeford seeming to suggest that the man could report no income, and thus would be more likely to receive benefits, because the income wasn’t documented by paychecks.

Conservative groups said the video exposed the “potential for fraud,” although the man simply walked away with an application form and never applied for or received benefits.

Gov. Paul LePage said the video indicated that Department of Health and Human Services workers needed more training and he pointed out that no actual fraud took place.

The second video attracted less attention and it showed a worker in Portland simply going through the guidelines and procedure of applying for benefits. Even conservative groups, such as the Maine Heritage Policy Center, praised the worker as “well-trained” and “knowledgeable.”

O’Keefe said his hidden camera techniques began in college at Rutgers University, where he taped a university official meeting with a small group of students demanding that the Lucky Charms cereal be removed from dining halls because it was derogatory to Irish-Americans. College officials gave in to political correctness until O’Keefe released the tape.

His most famous video showed workers for the community action group Acorn open to the idea of supporting a prostitution ring as a business eligible for aid. The videos eventually led to the loss of federal funds for Acorn, which has since disbanded.

O’Keefe said he anticipated critics’ reactions and used them as a tool. He said he released an edited version first, because he knew critics would allege the snippets were taken out of context or doctored, and he was able to respond by releasing the entire tape.

Expecting that critics would suggest one example was an isolated incident, he held back and then released tapes of workers in other offices reacting the same way.

“The media is the problem,” O’Keefe said. “Everything that we do, we have to keep in mind the fact that the media will protest.”

O’Keefe’s talk was sponsored by the Maine branch of Americans for Prosperity, which also released his Maine videos this summer.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]