TriggerFinger


Improper donations


I'm not a fan of most campaign finance laws, but I do think there are a few legitimate elements:
The idea behind these rules is to ensure that the public has a chance to vet the supporters of a particular candidate, and to prevent foreign powers from funding their favored candidates in return for policy concessions.  Actual campaign finance laws go substantially farther than that -- but after breaking his pledge to use public financing for his general election campaign, Obama has found a way around the disclosure law. 

He is taking in the vast majority of his campaign donations -- $150 million in September -- through online credit cards.  In theory, I'm ok with that; it makes sense.  But he has turned off the standard credit card verification methods that match the credit card number with the name, address, and zip code of the doner. 

Anyone who has ever made a purchase over the internet is familiar with those requirements.  The online merchant requests that you fill out a form with that information along with your credit card, and if you make a mistake, you get an error message instead of a completed purchase. 

What most people don't know is that they are not a requirement.  Instead, those security measures are best described as a "strong recommendation" that can be disabled if, for some reason, a website operator wants to allow for an increased chance of fraudulent purchases.  (I have implemented credit card processing sites in the past; that's how I know).  The Obama campaign site currently requests the necessary information to do that verification, but does not actually deny donations where the information doesn't match.

What makes this particularly tricky is when you consider legal requirements to report campaign donations.  After the election, and likely after the campaign has already spent the majority of its money, Obama will have a list of names, addresses, and companies who donated to his campaign that needs to be disclosed.  And he will have absolutely no way to know that the names and addresses associated with each donation are accurate.

Sure, it's easy enough to guess that donations from "Mickey Mouse" are probably not real.  But would anyone expect the campaign to contact millions of real-sounding names and offer to refund their donations after the election?  Or to refund by default those who cannot be contacted?

No.  For obvious reasons, only the most inept donations will be detected and refunded, and even those will only be handled at a pace that normal humans operate -- a pace that means the Obama campaign won't have to worry about actually refunding money until after the election. 

Without the automated verification process that credit card processors use by default, it is impossible to assign any confidence to the donor names reported by Obamas campaign to the FEC.  It is impossible to enforce limits on individual contributions.  The Obama campaign appears to have worked out how to completely ignore even those campaign finance laws that do not depend on voluntary participation, and bring Chicago machine politics into the internet age.

This entry was published Thu Oct 30 21:46:28 CDT 2008 by TriggerFinger and last updated 2008-10-30 21:46:28.0. [Tweet]

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