I Spy Campaign 2014: 'Gotcha' Politics or Business as Usual?

Pugh said Howting, whose own history of dirty tricks caught the attention of The New York Times, has ties to O’Keefe, who was convicted four years ago of attempting to tamper with the phone lines of Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu.

The New York Times reported that Howting once led a right-wing group, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, at Miami University of Ohio where he invited O’Keefe to speak and has participated in joint gotcha projects with him.

He was also on the staff of former Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) during a time when some members of McCotter’s staff were connected to a fraud involving McCotter’s candidate petitions.

The NYT also reported that Howting -- using the name “Melvin Howting” -- once showed up at a Harlem community organization posing as a worker at a New Jersey environmental company interested in organizing a union as part of a political sting operation.

Howting constructed a website for the environmental company where he boasted of being a vice president who had attended Earlham College and a chief executive who had graduated from West Point with “highest distinction.” The paper reported that there were no records backing those claims up and that the entire setup was a scam.

While at Miami University of Ohio, Howting reportedly was accused by students there of slathering tanning oil on his face, trying to pass as a liberal Latino activist.

Pugh said in addition to Schauer and lieutenant governor candidate Lisa Brown, Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson and various congressional, state House and Senate candidates were also targets of the bungled Republican spy operation.

An undercover Republican operative on one of the tapes, apparently posing as a Democrat, asks Johnson if they should vote in a contested August Republican primary in suburban Detroit.

Johnson is seen rejecting the idea on the tape. Instead he urges the fake Democrat to “play it straight” and tells him, “Let’s go win.”

“Rick Snyder and the Republicans may think they are 007 with all the spy gadgets, “ said Johnson. “But when you embarrass yourself with blown secrets and your dirty trickster’s previous antics attracted national attention, you’re more Maxwell Smart than James Bond.”

“It’s clear that Republican Gov. Snyder is getting desperate,” continued Johnson. “Snyder’s record of cutting our kids’ schools and raising taxes on seniors and families is catching up to him.”

The Republicans may have decided to cross that line — if there is a line — because of the way Schauer is coming on in a gubernatorial election the GOP had pretty much taken for granted.

Schauer, a former congressman whom most people in Michigan couldn’t pick out of a line-up of politicians, has narrowed the race to just three points, according to an EPIC-MRA poll released July 17, a poll with a four-point margin of error.

Whatever the reason, it is also clear that this form of political subterfuge won’t end any time soon if only because these spy glasses are so available and so darn affordable.

Google “video spy glasses” and you will find nearly 3 million results or listings including YouTube videos that offer instructions on how to use the glasses and reviews to help buys find the best. Most of the glasses retailed for less than $300.

Amazon listed a pair of 720 HD Spy Eyewear Sunglasses with hidden camera, DVR video, voice recorder and 5m pixel +8G Micro SD Card for a list price of $149, on sale for $54.35.

(For complete 2014 midterm coverage, get your campaign fix on The Grid.)