Despite significant right-wing hype, a new report by the conservative Government Accountability Institute (GAI) on the potential for foreign nationals to illegally contribute to U.S. political campaigns does not actually find any evidence of foreign nationals successfully donating to the Obama campaign. Still, a wide array of conservative and mainstream publications have incorrectly reported that the report documents foreign donors giving to the President’s re-election.
The GAI (not to be confused with the Government Accountability Office) details in its report America the Vulnerable: Are Foreign and Fraudulent Online Campaign Contributions Influencing U.S. Elections? that because candidates now raise money on the Internet and the Internet allows foreigners to access U.S. websites, it is easier than ever for non-Americans in foreign countries to donate to political candidates. The Daily Beast published a shorter version of the report, titled “The Illegal-Donor Loophole“. The authors note that a wide variety of candidates — Democrats and Republicans — face this concern.
The report notes:
Using a collection of online research tools, the Government Accountability Institute analyzed a portion of the foreign links that lead to the Obama campaign website, my.barackobama.com. The Institute found a wide variety of instances in which apparent foreign nationals either received solicitation emails or posted links to my.barackobama.com.
GAI then notes nine examples of foreign bloggers and bloggers in foreign countries — who may or may not be U.S. citizens — who have posted email solicitations or links to a “donate to Obama” page on their blogs. Only one, a Norwegian blogger named Gaupefot, claims to have actually donated to Obama. The blogger’s unverified claim, written in Norwegian, also appears to claim that the CIA funds the Norwegian Labour Party.
The GAI also notes that people from other countries often visit campaign websites and that an array of cyber-squatters have purchased domains that sound like political websites and link them often to legitimate campaign websites. These are even more often visited by users outside of the United States. It also claims that because Obama’s campaign site — and 211 Members of Congress — use a verification system for credit card contributions that does not include asking for a three-digit security code (Card Verification Value), these sites are potentially at greater risk for fraud.
The Obama campaign website, in fact, requires all donors to acknowledge that “I am a United States citizen or a lawfully admitted permanent resident of the United States,” before donating. Additionally, the Obama for America (OFA) campaign notes, “Though not required by law, OFA requires a copy of a valid passport from any contributor who has been affirmed as eligible but donates with a mailing address outside the U.S. If they do not offer in one in a timely manner, the donation is returned.”
The lack of evidence of any actually illegal contributions to Obama has not been reflected in news headlines and Tweets since the report’s publication. Among the worst offenders:
Washington Examiner: Report: Obama.com solicits foreign contributions for prez
Investor’s Business Daily: Obama Campaign Rakes In Millions In Illegal Foreign Cash
Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity: Up next @schweizerGAI and Steve Bannon discuss Obama’s illegal foreign donations- admin is already on the defense!
GAI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ironically, it is conservative blogger Erick Erickson of RedState.com and CNN, who best demonstrates that the Obama campaign does not accept contributions from foreign donors. In a potentially illegal attempt to provide a point, Erickson acknowledges that he falsely claimed to be Boris Noridnikova of Moscow, Russia and attempted to donate $5 to the Obama campaign online. After giving a fake passport number, the contribution was ultimately rejected after a few days of processing.
The lack of scandal in this report does not, however, mean that foreign nationals may not be influencing U.S. elections. The Center for Public Integrity reported Friday that Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC, accepted a $1 million contribution from OdysseyRe of Connecticut, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Canadian insurance and investment management giant Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United ruling, this is legal — as long as no foreign nationals direct the spending.
A Norwegian-speaking reader wrote in and noted that even the sole example of an illegal foreign donation appears to be simply an incorrect translation. A University of North Dakota Norwegian language professor confirmed to ThinkProgress that Gaupefot’s blog post actually says that he or she did not donate to Obama but that he or she would have — if it had been possible.