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

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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David Strom 12:31 PM on December 07, 2022