What's in That Report About Illegal Foreign Political Donations?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 8 2012 2:42 PM

What's in That Report About Illegal Foreign Political Donations?

Last week the Internet learned of a coming expose of possible foreign money coming into the Obama campaign and other campaigns. The report, from Peter Schweizer's Government Accountability Institute, is up, and... not conclusive. How could it be? Schweizer's researchers spent six months trying to figure out what protections existed to keep illegal foreign donations out of American campaigns. But they ran up against the same fog as Michael Isikoff in a similar, shorter look at weird money to Obama from "Good Will" and "Doodad Pro." You can't easily determine whether a foreign national has given a donation. This report includes a series of blog posts from foreigners talking about the ease of giving, but not saying that they've actually given.

The big, immediate questions I see: Why do Obama donation appeals go out to non-Americans, anyway? And why isn't the credit card protection stronger? The first question is tricky, because for years scammy organizations have used the Obama brand to collect money from the dumb and credit-limited. The second question is compelling:

The Obama campaign has claimed that it doesn’t need the CVV because they are able to vet contributions on the back end using sophisticated techniques that it doesn’t disclose.
This begs the question: why is it using different techniques when it comes to selling campaign merchandise? The Obama campaign’s vulnerabilities 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 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.
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Good questions! I've asked the campaign to clear this up and will update if they do.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.