Saturday, November 1, 2008

Internet Donations

The Internet has made contributing to political campaigns very easy.  
But has it made it too easy?  

Specifically, there are reports surfacing that Senator Obama's campaign has been the recipient of illegal contributions from those ineligible to contribute, or those making contributions under false names, thereby evading Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules.

While this was just something percolating on conservative web blogs, I hadn't paid too much attention.  However, the story has now gone mainstream.

The LA Times reports:
Obama has revolutionized campaign fundraising, employing the Internet to tap into more donors than any candidate in history. The campaign has reported $160 million in contributions from donors of $200 or less, more than a third of the $458 million raised. But as Obama sets records, his fundraising has come under increased scrutiny.

The Democratic candidate's donors also include "Derty Poiiuy," an individual with a scatological sense of humor who has given $950. "Mong Kong" has contributed $1,065 and lists an address in a nonexistent city. "Fornari USA" gave $800 and listed the address of an apparel store of that name near San Francisco.
The Washington Post has a more disturbing take:
Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign is allowing donors to use largely untraceable prepaid credit cards that could potentially be used to evade limits on how much an individual is legally allowed to give or to mask a contributor's identity, campaign officials confirmed. Faced with a huge influx of donations over the Internet, the campaign has also chosen not to use basic security measures to prevent potentially illegal or anonymous contributions from flowing into its accounts, aides acknowledged. Instead, the campaign is scrutinizing its books for improper donations after the money has been deposited.
There's a big difference between a campaign that receives illegal donations despite taking reasonable precautions against them. If the Post is correct, then, the Obama campaign has failed to live up to its obligations to take them. Even worse is the possibility that this is something more than negligence, although there has been no proof of that.

Given that one of the reasons to vote for Obama has been his very well run campaign, this is disturbing news in any case. The campaign needs to come clean immediately about what went wrong, why, and discipline those responsible. If it sweeps it under the rug, it will all come out during the transition, making it very hard for Obama's administration to get off to a strong start.

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