Reporter’s donation using pre-paid gift card accepted by Obama, rejected by McCain

posted at 4:30 pm on October 25, 2008 by Allahpundit

Demanding proof of address would just get in the way of Change, man.

To test the campaigns’ practices, this author bought two pre-paid American Express gift cards worth $25 each to donate to the Obama and McCain campaigns online. As required by law, the campaigns’ Web sites asked for, and National Journal provided, the donor’s correct name, location and employment. The cards were purchased with cash at a Washington, D.C., drugstore, and the campaigns’ Web sites were accessed through a public computer at a library in Fairfax County, Virginia.

The Obama campaign’s Web site accepted the $25 donation, but the McCain campaign’s Web site rejected it.

Rebecca Donatelli, president of Campaigns Solutions of Alexandria, Va., which processes donations for John McCain, said her system rejected the donation because American Express could not verify that the donor lived at the address given with the online contribution…

“We could lower our standards and accept more money… but this is John McCain’s campaign, and he wants to root out fraud in fundraising and have everything open and as honest as possible,” said Donatelli.

Yeah, “wants” being the key word. The whole point of the blogosphere’s inquiry the past few days has been to try to show that this isn’t business as usual, that someone on Team Barry’s end made a decision at some point to dial down the security safeguards and his online vendor evidently agreed to go along. Why National Journal didn’t seize on that angle when they’re obviously willing to expose donation shenanigans is beyond me. Instead, we get a long, interesting, but not terribly exciting meditation on the flaws in verifying online donations generally.

Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have its moments:

Timmerman and other critics said the Obama campaign has been slow in returning donations that exceed the legal limit. “It’s fairly clear that the Obama campaign has allowed certain donations to stand for certain periods of time that are dubious,” said Stephen Weissman, policy director at the nonpartisan D.C.-based Campaign Finance Institute. The institute is funded by foundations, including the left-of-center Joyce Foundation of Chicago…

[T]he Obama campaign’s failure to verify donors’ identities or addresses is suspicious, [Richard Viguerie] said. All campaigns collect that data to verify donors and to persuade donors to work as volunteers. If the verification checks are disabled, “there’s no limit on how much a relatively small number of people could donate to the campaign on credit cards,” he said.

If they’re not checking the donors, he said, “they’re thumbing their nose at the law.” There’s no downside because the establishment media will go easy on them before the election, and they can easily raise funds to pay fines once they’re in power, he said.

McCain’s gotten donations from people with fake names too, but in the one case cited by NJ the donor used his correct address. That makes sense, as anyone who’s ordered a pizza will know: They don’t need your name but they do need the street because that’s what credit card companies use for verification — except for Barack Obama’s credit card company, of course, which will greenlight you even if you claim to reside on Brownlee Avenue in Imaginationland. The wider disconnect here, if I’m reading the piece correctly, is that the FEC uses donors’ names to police campaign contribution limits when in fact it’s the names that are the most easily faked aspect of donating online. Doubtless President Obama will get right on solving that problem once he’s in office and thinking ahead to 2012.

If you’re going to skim the piece, at least read the final few paragraphs quoting the former head of the FBI’s financial crimes unit on how easily this sort of fraud can be detected when campaign staffers feel like lifting a finger to detect it. I leave you with this screecap from a reader who donated to Barry O serially as John Galt, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, and Bill Ayers using fake addresses. It took a few days for the charges to be processed, but here they are on his credit card statement:

Someone from Team Obama told Fox News the other day that they catch this stuff on the back end, so presumably the defense here will be that they’ll refund the money eventually. Revisit Weissman’s quote above for a sense of what “eventually” means. Exit question: How many staffers would they have to hire to verify donations that are coming in at a clip of several per second?

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cameo on October 25, 2008 at 5:31 PM

I had a similar idea. People seem to be into “testing” whether the security procedures are in place by using fake names. What about donating in the name of somebody who has already maxed out at $2300 and putting that person over the legal limit? Those names are available. Could make things uncomfortable for O donors.

Legal Disclaimer: I got my fake law degree from the Honduran University of Law and Swine Herdsmanship. I don’t recommend attempting what I just mentioned.

innominatus on October 25, 2008 at 8:48 PM is an address owned by AOL. Did you bother to look up how geotracking works? or
All credit card transaction are sent to a holding company (think insurance company)they take % out to ensure the transaction. You guys can keep trying but please do your research first.

jero_jones on October 25, 2008 at 9:09 PM

Here’s a serious question. What would happen if Obama won, and after the election, it was discovered that Obama was NOT a US citizen, or some other fact disqualified him from running in the first place, or sitting as president? Would the info be suppressed, allowing Obama to be blackmailed by a foreign power, or would he be disqualified, causing riots in the streets?

I’m not kidding, I’d like to know.

stonemeister on October 25, 2008 at 9:18 PM

What would happen if Obama won, and after the election, it was discovered that Obama was NOT a US citizen, or some other fact disqualified him from running in the first place, or sitting as president? Would the info be suppressed, allowing Obama to be blackmailed by a foreign power, or would he be disqualified, causing riots in the streets? – stonemeister on October 25, 2008 at 9:18 PM

I doubt the info would be suppressed, but it would make for some dramatic moments. Honestly, I haven’t a clue. I suspect that this would fall into articles of impeachment by the Senate. Trouble is, if his candidacy itself was illegitimate, does it mean the election of his VP is too? I suspect not, since Biden is elected by a separate tally of votes. In which case, Biden becomes president. Unless, of course, Sarah drew more votes than Biden did. In that case she becomes president.


ManlyRash on October 25, 2008 at 9:22 PM

stonemeister on October 25, 2008 at 9:18 PM

Once he takes the oath of office, the only ones who can force him out of offices is Congress, through the impeachment process…

Somthing that Pelosi and Reid will not allow to happen, unless there is armed insurrection in this country.

Romeo13 on October 25, 2008 at 9:32 PM


ManlyRash on October 25, 2008 at 9:22 PM

We need a Constitutional scholar on this one. Is Obama available?

Seriously, this is one tough question. If his candidacy is invalid, that would make the election invalid, therefore, it would be as if McCain ran unopposed. If the candidacy is valid, but Obama cannot legally sit as President, he would be disqualified and Biden would take over. Each of these scenarios would cause rioting in the streets, of course, as would a McCain victory on 11/4.

stonemeister on October 25, 2008 at 9:34 PM

Ya’ll think if I put an Obama sticker on my car and truck and study up on how to be a good socialist/communist I might have a shot of getting me one of them government checks every month so I don’t have to get up every morning to go to work?


/goes back to the Dillon to process a few thousand more “supplies”

BadMojo on October 25, 2008 at 9:41 PM

Romeo13 on October 25, 2008 at 9:32 PM

This would be a thorny issue, to be sure. His “oath” of office would be ipso facto invalid. There’d be one helluva ruckus, that’s for sure.

ManlyRash on October 25, 2008 at 9:42 PM

The smoking gun isn’t the bogus names per se, but rather the bogus address/zip information. A card authorization attempt with an incorrect cardholder name (but everything else correct) will usually get authorized by the processor.

This is because names vary too much from the original credit card application and it would cause too many rejections. For example, people often write down their full legal name on a credit card app but later forget and use their colloquial name on a charge. For example lets say a guy applies for a credit card using his legal name, say, Charles Frederrick O’Brien. Later he charges Internet purchases with the name Charlie O’Brien, or Charles OBrien. Because of the high frequency of such errors the credit card industry generally does not scrutinize the name closely.

What the processor really checks are the numbers: The 16-20 digits of the credit card and expiration date must match exactly.
For Card Not Present Transactions a second set of numbers are also required for PCI compliance. All credit card issuers require that a MOTO (Mail Order / Telephone Order) or an Internet merchant must submit two more numbers during the initial authorization: the first 5 digits of the street address, and the 5 digits of the zip code (or zip+4). These two numbers are checked by a second system called the Address Verification System (AVS). Participation in AVS is mandatory in that the merchant always has to provide the street/zip and always gets back a response (match, no match, or partial match).
When a merchant website gets the get the card and address info it sends an authorization request to the card processor. This happens immediately and the AVS response code is given within a couple seconds: street match, zip match, both match, or neither match. If nothing matches AVS reports why the addr/zip did not match. (This is the smoking gun, which I will explain shortly.)
People who submitted bogus test purchases to Obama’s website have reported that their funds are being held immediately, but the withdrawal does not happen until 2-3 days later. This is exactly how an AuthCap merchant account works: The funds are captured and the AVS response is sent back to the merchant. The funds have not yet been withdrawn from the cardholder’s account. The merchant then looks over the purchases (including the AVS responses) and is supposed to kick out any that are flagged by AVS. Most web sites will do this instantly and report “card refused”, which is the default setting for AVS failure in merchant-side transaction processing software. In this case the AuthCap merchant does not deliver the item purchased (no music download, no game download, or whatever). No money is withdrawn and the capture will eventually drop off the cardholder’s account after a few days. Otherwise the merchant submits the charge in a nightly batch (or hourly for a large merchant). This is called settlement. After 2-3 days the funds are removed from the cardholder’s account and the transaction is complete.
If the AVS check fails, AVS will report why it failed. For example AVS returns code U or S for an anonymous card. It returns code G for a card issued by a non-US foreign bank.
The point is that AVS response code is mandatory – it is always given for MOTO/Internet transactions. And it is given immediately at the instant the card is authorized. As Mr. Steyn indicated you have to willfully and deliberately ignore the AVS response by explicitly turning off the AVS check in your merchant-side transaction processing software. You still get the AVS-fail response code (S, U, or G); you are just ignoring it.
Visa/MC banks hate it when merchants blow off AVS, as it increases the risk of chargebacks (which are a hassle/expense for the bank to handle). Consequently they demand a much higher discount rate to take cards with AVS-overrides.

As Steyn indicated, while foreign transactions are ok for most web vendors (perhaps with extra scrutiny) it is preposterous to willfully accept a code G foreign card when you are running a US election campaign. Accepting a card that you know is from a foreign bank seems to be prima facie evidence of violation of US election laws. And Obama’s campaign definitely does know, because as I said the AVS response is mandatory and you always get it back.

Gideon7 on October 25, 2008 at 10:05 PM

All credit card transaction are sent to a holding company (think insurance company)they take % out to ensure the transaction. You guys can keep trying but please do your research first.
jero_jones on October 25, 2008 at 9:09 PM

Wrong again.

Most online credit card transactions go directly to the issuer of the merchant account, then the merchant account ‘bank’ clears it with the overall cared issuer, like Visa etc. or directly to the card issuers bank. This handshaking usually only takes about 15 seconds to maybe 3 minutes under normal circumstances.

Now, it won’t necessarily appear on the person’s account immediately. Even on my own accounts, it is variable. Sometimes it will appear in my transaction report inside of a few minutes;, often a token charge of a dollar of five dollars will appear as ‘pending’ then the actual amount will show up in a day or three.

NONE of those entities checks the IP address. They just check to see if the credit card is valid, that the transaction will not put the card holder over his/her personal limit. If it is an unusually large payment they may put a hold on it until they can call the card holder to verify.

As to your geo-targeting tripe, that has absolutely nothing to do with tracking credit card transactions. It is for analyzing where your website visitors come from. And even then,they only track the geographic data down to a certain level. Somtimes only down to the nation, sometimes down to the state, depending on how the ISP has allocated their IP blocks. USUALLY it will give you the information down to the city.

But even that can often be wrong. Do a trace on MY IP address and you will be given the name of a town 45 miles from where I live. The only legal way to get my name and or address from an IP address is to get a court order.

I could go ‘war driving’ in some little podunk town a thousand miles away from here, find an open router, and submit any kind of legal credit card transaction I wanted…. or use an internet cafe in Argentina or Zimbabwe and under normal circumstances, no one would ever know that I wasn’t sitting at my desk at home when I placed the order or made the donation.

Or I could be sitting right here at my desk, go through one of several known (to hackers, anyway) ‘pirate’ proxy servers in say, Russia, and I could make it look like I was in Russia, when I was actually right at home.

Not only do you not really have a clue about what you are pretending to know, you also entirely missing the point. And that point is: 0Bama has his campaign website and donation processing system set up so that anonymous and/or illegal donors can funnel cash from any source to him, and McCain has better than average protocols in place to try to filter out even the slightly questionable donors, much less the obviously fake ones.

LegendHasIt on October 25, 2008 at 10:40 PM

Gideon7 on October 25, 2008 at 10:05 PM

Excellent. Thanks for the information.

LegendHasIt on October 25, 2008 at 11:13 PM

Legend please do your research on how IP’s are allocated, geotracking and the many uses of geotracking. The scope of what can be done with an IP and cookies is limited due to what is called “the creep factor” in my industry. Plus, for you nutball theory to work it would take millions of gift cards to make it happen. There are far easier ways to funnel cash than this hair brained idea. Doing it online leaves to many footprints.

jero_jones on October 25, 2008 at 11:14 PM

Here’s a serious question. What would happen if Obama won, and after the election, it was discovered that Obama was NOT a US citizen, or some other fact disqualified him from running in the first place, or sitting as president? Would the info be suppressed, allowing Obama to be blackmailed by a foreign power, or would he be disqualified, causing riots in the streets?

I’m not kidding, I’d like to know.

stonemeister on October 25, 2008 at 9:18 PM

On an earlier thread, someone wrote that if the elected president is later disqualified, the person who got the next largest number of electoral college votes becomes president….hence McCain

I don’t know if this is correct, but it sure sounds good…better than Biden becoming prez

txdoc on October 25, 2008 at 11:21 PM


grtflmark on October 26, 2008 at 12:14 AM

Legend please do your research ….
jero_jones on October 25, 2008 at 11:14 PM

Instead of telling me to research things that I have been dealing with professionally for the last 17 years, how about giving us all specifics about how I am wrong and you are right?

And then once you have proven me wrong about the technicalities, how about telling us all about how it doesn’t matter if 0bama receives even a few thousand, much less a few tens of millions of dollars illegally; how it doesn’t matter that he (or at least his campaign workers) intentionally have disabled industry wide anti-fraud measures in their fundraising activities.

And if you can’t do that, then I and most of the other people here will rightly ignore you henceforth.

And if you could explain to us all why in your opinion the McCain campaign is using the wrong processing system for his donations because it filters out the most egregious attempts at questionable -to- illegal donations up front, that would be icing on the cake.

LegendHasIt on October 26, 2008 at 12:41 AM

How many infractions will the Obama campaign commit before they get reprimanded.

Cr4sh Dummy on October 26, 2008 at 12:54 AM

Legend nice way to change the subject. But I am curious how you could possibly have been working in internet sales for the last 17 years? Back to my original point Al Gore (Legend) ALL ONLINE TRANSACTIONS ARE TRACKED via cookies and IP’s Period think money laundering. Read the federal laws that have been put in place the last few years. For this type of fraud to happen it would take millions of transactions which mean millions of unique gift cards from unique locations. Just because you can think of this plot it has to practical, there are far easier ways to funnel money and what you suggest is stupid and not practical. Besides the fact it leaves to many trails as you should know Al Gore the internet is not anonymous even if you use a proxy. Also, if you knew how IP’s where allocated is a good start they can be tracked by location based and owner, never mind you should already know how to track an IP to an physical address or business. As for McCain he was late to online game and has never dedicated a huge amount of resources for online donations.

jero_jones on October 26, 2008 at 1:45 AM

Anyone here remember the Hsi Lai Temple incident?

The Chinese government gave money to a Buddhist temple. The monks & nuns at the temple donated $50,000 to the DNC and were reimbursed by the temple.

The way Obama’s donation website is configured it’s almost as if it were designed specifically to allow a foreign government who wants Obama elected (Chavez, Iran) or rich individuals (George Soros) to funnel millions of dollars directly into his campaign.

The thing is that this would require prior knowledge that the donations would be made, if not, the Obama campaign would just be setting itself up for possible massive chargeback fees.

There are countries where roomfulls of people do nothing all day but play World of Warcraft, creating and advancing characters to later sell to U.S. players who don’t want to take the time to do it themselves. Is it really such a stretch to imagine similar rooms full of people making charges against thousands of pre-paid gift cards?

29Victor on October 26, 2008 at 2:04 AM

I built my first webstore in 1991. that makes 17 years ago, plus or minus a few months.

Yes, website Domain names and IPs can be traced to a specific name and address, of owners, administrators and technical contacts although this data can be hidden or spoofed, as as long as the authorities don’t get interested in it, you ca get away with it.

USER IPs… those by individuals sitting at home donating to McCain or 0bama, or Toys’RUs online are generally not trackable any closer than city without a court order to the ISP. Even if you are on broadband at home and have a Static IP, there is no way to get name and address of individual users without either a court oder or the illegal collusion of a friend down at the ISP. And people on Dialup, (and even some on some DSL or broadband accounts) usually get a randomly assigned dynamic IP assigned when they log on, which will often change , be assigned to the next user once you disconnect from your ISP.

COOKIES reside on the individual users computer and can be erased in two mouse clicks. While they COULD be stored and correlated by IP by the websites SSI system, not everyone does it, and that information is never passed on to the credit card processor, unless it is a part of an investigation, after the fact.

Only transactions greater than $10,000 are given the sort of scrutiny that you claim as a mater of course.

And you still dance around the entire point of this whole thread:

0bama’s site is set up to make it very easy to facilitate fraudulent transactions and illegal donations. McCain’s is not.

NOW… You claim to be ‘in the industry’. OK, here is the deal. Give me the URL to some sort of internet site that you have access to the back end. I’ll go there, make a transaction under my Hot Air screen name. Then you can come back to this thread and tell everyone my real name and my official street address.

Unless you can do that, Sir, You are are not worth another moment’s thought by me or any other rational user of this site.

LegendHasIt on October 26, 2008 at 2:20 AM

Well, crap. the Alzheimer’s is kicking in.
My first domain name was registered around the end of 1995.

I apologize for overestimating how long I have been in business over the internet.

And since I didn’t get my first CC merchant account until about a year later (customers just mailed me checks or M.O.s before that), my first transaction handled completely over the internet was a mere 12 years ago. So it just SEEMS like 17 years to me.

I stand by the rest of my statements though.

LegendHasIt on October 26, 2008 at 3:14 AM

What would happen if Obama won, and after the election, it was discovered that Obama was NOT a US citizen, or some other fact disqualified him from running in the first place, or sitting as president? Would the info be suppressed, allowing Obama to be blackmailed by a foreign power, or would he be disqualified, causing riots in the streets?

I’m not kidding, I’d like to know.

stonemeister on October 25, 2008 at 9:18 PM

Well, it’d make one heck of a great film if made by someone not among the Liberal side (who’d ruin it with wrongly-placed heroics and ridicule of the actual heroes).

I once heard a story pitch about: “the Messiah returns to Earth and is later discovered to be an alien.”

Sorta’ what’s taking place today, with a few revisions to the story.

S on October 26, 2008 at 3:35 AM

S on October 26, 2008 at 3:35 AM

Here’s the scenario for a great comedy flick: A young marxist fraudster strings a series of scams together to run for the state legislature, wins, then parlays that to run for the Senate, wins, and immediately positions himself to run for President. Leveraging a willing press, he keeps his entire life history a secret, and runs for President with a campaign of high sounding generalities.

His opponent is a true hero, who sacrificed nearly 6 years of his life being tortured as a prisoner of war, and later on went on to a career in as a congressman and senator, working as a maverick to unselfishly represent all of America for over 25 years. The only tarnish to his record was, as a young congressman, being polite to an intimidating power broker who had asked for illegal favors, and who he tactfully turned down.

The scam artist actually leads all the polls by varying margins, even though none of his supporters has any idea of his accomplishments, if any. To top it off, this fraudster has admitted to using serious drugs, his only associations are with race-baiters, domestic terrorists, convicted racketeers, and the like. His running mate cannot speak a sentence without making major gaffes or telling lies.

I haven’t come up with an ending yet. I doubt if anyone would buy this cockamamie story anyway.

stonemeister on October 26, 2008 at 4:16 AM

stonemeister on October 26, 2008 at 4:16 AM

Nah, that could never happen. The scenario for a direct to video Troma Team zombie flick would be more likely.

Oh wait. I vaguely remember something like that happening in real life.

But never in America, Right? Our press is so full of unbiased genuine investigative journalists that such a situation could never get off the ground. It could only happen in a third-world country full of illiterates, Right???

(do I need to add the sarcasm tag?)

LegendHasIt on October 26, 2008 at 4:27 AM

Bad is good and good is bad. Even Oreilly’s guys got the cops called on them for seeking out answers from an admitted terrorist? Un freakin real what this place [the U.S.] has become and hopefully we wont pay too high a price for it on Nov 4. Now if Obamas people haven’t gotten called on any of this yet, us republicans need to stop whining about it and need to get his numbers down in some other way. Calling him out on lots of these anti-white, anti-US belief systems he has been exposed to all of his life is striking bad chords. Turn more of those rocks over and folks will see more of what he’s hiding. Time is running out though.

He also pays extra attention to make sure he has photo’s of kissing hugging and being surrounded by whites, so obviously thats who he’s trying to impress. He’s got it with the blacks just because he’s black and they’ll tell you so. I am not saying it this as racist in anyway but to sort of quote Rush from last week, its not ‘racist’, but instead is race-related. If you dont believe me look at his news clips and you’ll see he’s got white middle-class males in the background of the shots and you’ll see him kissing and hugging white women [includig Hillary I might add]. Has anyone seen him in a crowd with blacks all over the place? no becuase its not the crowd he’s needing to sway.

I’m tellin ya the mans strategists know what they are doing, and he is a well-trained speaker and con man. There’s one secret weapon out there and its called the ‘silent majority’ and they have a way of making up a lot of that 11% I mentioned earlier here. Like someone else said, he needs to b stopped now because once he’s in it will literally take an act of Congress to get him out and we hopefully won’t be fighting one or two more wars abroad at the time.

johnnyU on October 26, 2008 at 6:59 AM

INTRODUCING – The SOROS Pre-paid Visa! Double Marxist Rewards Points!

marklmail on October 26, 2008 at 10:39 AM

if anyone on the left can tell me that joe biden is a better vp canadante than palin i will gladly meet you and explain that biden is not only the dumbest but the most lying pol in the u.s.

TomLawler on October 26, 2008 at 3:50 PM

Wow, you were using the internet in 1991? Okookie dookie, I have some stock in AIG you want to buy some. True, an IP given by an ISP uses DHCP but how long is that lease? How does the RIAA track people down for downloading music? How was Spitzer caught? See it is all related to multiple money laundering and anti-terror laws. See the difference is I am talking about high end data mining software and your talking the free stuff like Google analytics.

jero_jones on October 26, 2008 at 11:54 PM

jero_jones on October 26, 2008 at 11:54 PM

My God you are a retard. You have been told, and not just by me, how credit card transactions are processed over the internet, and how that relates to 0bamas open to fraud system.

So you go and google a few related words and acronyms throw them up on the screen in an incoherent manner, thinking that you will impress people.

Yeah, data mining is a very powerful tool and can do everything you claim. I never denied that. But you apparently think that every damn internet transaction is analyzed like that? My guess is that you have been listening to a little too much George Noory. Did he recently do another program on Carnivore and Echelon? Or maybe even talk about even more recent investigative tools out of room 641a?

What you are talking about in that last heaping pile of idiocy is part of criminal investigations and anti terrorism… It isn’t done as a matter of course on every five dollar sale through toysrus or every five dollar donation on

And as usual you miss the entire point of this thread, despite having your nose rubbed in it many times. There are a few people here that are too stupid to argue with because logic and common sense is a completely foreign concept to them. Welcome to the top of that list.

LegendHasIt on October 27, 2008 at 1:21 AM

good to see you avoided the bigger subject with this nutball theory. Did you use Vista back in 1991?

jero_jones on October 27, 2008 at 7:59 AM

Wow, you were using the internet in 1991?

Yep, so was I. Compuserve. 300 baud was bitchin.

Jay Evans on October 29, 2008 at 10:01 AM