Claim: Obama campaign illegally solicited foreign donors via social media website

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign has been soliciting foreigners for donations, an explosive report from the conservative Government Accountability Institute (GAI) shows.

Those foreign donors are allegedly visiting the Obama campaign’s donation solicitation Web pages through a social media website the campaign controls, and through an outside website that serves mostly Internet users from outside the United States.

About 20 percent of visitors to the “my.barackobama.com” social media website “originated from foreign locations,” the report found. That Web address is owned and controlled by the Obama re-election campaign.

“At no point during the [website’s] subscription process is a visitor asked whether he or she can legally donate to a U.S. election,” GAI notes.

“Once a visitor signs up, he or she immediately begins receiving solicitations for donations. In fact, numerous foreign nationals report receiving solicitation letters and thank you emails from the campaign for their support. Some of these emails have been reposted on blog sites to encourage friends to click on the donate link or get their names on the email list.”

The “primary purpose of my.barackobama.com is to create a highly personalized vehicle for individuals to ‘get involved’ and to invite others to do the same,” GAI explains. But Obama’s campaign “employs various techniques to gather email and other data on the friends and associations of [the site’s] members to further the campaign’s fundraising efforts.”

Washington Examiner writer Paul Bedard reported last week that a fundraising scandal would soon hit the Obama campaign, and may have been one reason why the president bumbled his way to failure during Wednesday’s debate against Mitt Romney.

Federal law prohibits “a foreign national, directly or indirectly,” from making “a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value … in connection with a Federal, State, or local election. The same section of law makes it a federal crime to “solicit, accept, or receive” such campaign contributions.

GAI’s report explores fundraising practices that directly contradict the president’s 2010 insistence that American elections shouldn’t be funded by foreign powers.

“I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities,” Obama said then.

GAI cites examples comprising what it calls “but a sample” of a large trend of Obama’s campaign soliciting foreign nationals for campaign donations. Those examples focus on foreign bloggers posting fundraising-request emails from the Obama campaign.

The group identified such Obama fundraising solicitations sent to Chinese, Azerbaijani, Vietnamese, Dutch, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian and Egyptian bloggers.

In a report accompanying the GAI report’s release, former U.S. Attorney Ken Sukhia concluded that the Obama campaign is clearly soliciting donations from foreign nationals. Sukhia served as counsel to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on military and overseas ballot cases during the 2000 election.

“The GAI Report has shown that the Obama Campaign actively solicits campaign contributions from non-U.S. residents throughout the world,” Sukhia wrote. “[S]uch solicitations could be explainable if they were received solely by U.S. citizens abroad. They clearly are not.”

In addition to soliciting foreigners for donations, the Obama campaign has chosen not to employ industry-standard safeguards against collecting unlawful foreign donations via its social media and online process, the GAI report says.

Obama for America does not require online credit card donors to input Card Verification Value data to confirm that a political donor is legally authorized to charge contributions to a given credit card. GAI said CVV data consists of “a three or four digit number generally imprinted on the back of the card” in order “to verify that the person executing the purchase physically possesses the card.”

GAI notes that the Obama campaign’s failure to use such security measures in its online donation system likely costs it “millions of dollars in additional fees” because “card processors charge higher transaction fees for campaigns that fail to use the CVV.”

The group estimates that Obama’s 2008 campaign, which raised over $500 million, likely “paid at least an additional $7.25 million in fees to the banks that it could have avoided if it were to have used the CVV,” assuming the campaign paid typical rates for processing credit card transactions.

The Obama campaign claims it has its own methods of confirming the legitimacy of credit card transactions. But it does require CVV data from credit card purchasers of hats, t-shirts and other campaign merchandise.

GAI also determined that the Obama re-election campaign has selected a particularly weak Address Verification System (AVS), a computerized means of comparing house numbers and ZIP codes provided by a donor with the corresponding numbers on file with a credit card issuer.

Different AVS systems “can be set to accept multiple degrees of error,” according to GAI’s report.

“[D]epending on the degree of error the Webmaster allows for the AVS, a transaction might not be flagged as potentially fraudulent if the purchaser mistyped the address associated with the card,” GAI reported. “While all major U.S. credit card issuers are AVS compliant, many foreign card issuers are not.”

Sukhia said that “the AVS error settings the [Obama] campaign appears to have chosen would not provide meaningful protection against fraudulent or foreign contributions.”

These “vulnerabilities” in the Oama campaign’s online credit card processing system, GAI contends, “are not difficult to fix.”

“In addition to the CVV and a strong AVS system, the campaign could make use of geo-location on the campaign websites so that if a visitor comes from a foreign IP [Internet Protocol] address, he or she would be alerted of the relevant federal laws and asked for a passport number or military ID in order to proceed to the donation page,” GAI said.

In addition to fundraising practices employed at “my.barackobama.com,” another website — “Obama.com” — directs Web traffic to pages where the president’s campaign fills its coffers, GAI concluded.

Neither President Obama nor his campaign owns Obama.com. Sukhia said data show that 68 percent of traffic to that website comes from foreign users, all of whom are redirected to Obama fundraising Web pages.

Obama.com was registered in September 2008 to Robert Roche, an Obama campaign bundler living in Shanghai, China, according to GAI.

“Roche is an American citizen (originally from Chicago) who has spent the bulk of his time since the late 1990s developing business interests in Shanghai,” the group wrote. Roche “has considerable business interests in Chinese state-run television and ties to several state-owned Chinese companies.”

“By October 2, 2008, Obama.com began redirecting all visitors to specific content on my.barackobama.com,” GAI wrote. “Upon arrival to my.barackobama.com, visitors were asked for their name, email, and zip code and presumably were sent solicitation letters, like every other visitor who provides that information to the campaign.”

“Following President Obama’s campaign victory in November 2008, Obama.com redirected visitors to a page selling inauguration merchandise and taking donations for the inauguration celebration,” GAI added. “Throughout 2009, the website redirected to pages on the campaign website advocating various presidential initiatives.”

“Starting in late January 2010, Obama.com redirected to a page gathering email addresses and continued to do so through 2011. Sometime during 2012, the webpage began sending visitors to a donation page on the Obama campaign’s website. The campaign’s donation page loads an affiliate number to track the traffic and donations coming via the website. It continues to do so today.”

According to GAI’s report, Roche’s name was removed from the domain registration of Obama.com on Oct. 4, 2010, and replaced with “an anonymous registration” provided by an affiliate of GoDaddy.com. Obama.com was subsequently moved to a server company based in Utah and its administration was transferred to Wicked Global, “a small company with only four employees listed on its website,” and led by a 25-year-old Harvard dropout.

“Who arranged for Wicked Global to oversee Obama.com, and why that was done is unknown,” GAI reported, adding that it “remains unclear whether or not Roche himself continues to own Obama.com. Nevertheless, the site continues to aid the Obama campaign, regardless of ownership.”

The Obama campaign has not responded to The Daily Caller’s request for comment regarding this report.

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