As ThinkProgress detailed Tuesday, right-wing and mainstream news sources have extensively misrepresented a new report by the conservative Government Accountability Institute (GAI), suggesting incorrectly that the report details widespread foreign money flowing to President Obama’s re-election campaign. A further review of the report finds that the sole example included of a foreign-national donor giving to the Obama campaign was, in fact, based on a translation error.
The GAI’s report, America the Vulnerable: Are Foreign and Fraudulent Online Campaign Contributions Influencing U.S. Elections? cited a Norwegian blog as an example of an apparent non-citizen claiming to have illegally contributed to a U.S. political campaign:
A Norwegian blogger posts a solicitation from the Obama campaign, including the link to the donate page. When another blogger opines that non-U.S. citizens cannot contribute because of American law, the blogger responds in Norwegian, “I have in practice given money to Obama, I had done it.”
The footnote for this claim links to a blogger named “Gaupefot.” His or her comment, in Norwegian, was:
Jeg mottar nok bare epost fra Obama. Pøvde å donere penger til John Kerry i 2004. Det gikk dessverre ikke. Forøvrig har ikke USA noe de skulle sagt på det området. De tar heller livet av utenlandske politikere. Pengedonasjoner blir for pingler slik de ser det. CIA har forøvrig gitt penger til Det norske arbeiderparti, og antakeligvis også til andre norske partier og politske grupperinger.
Hadde jeg i praksis kunne gitt penger til Obama hadde jeg gjort det.
The GAI report’s authors apparently relied on Google Translator for their translation of that final line. ThinkProgress confirmed with three Norwegian speakers, including a University of North Dakota professor of Norwegian language, that the quote actually means quite the opposite.
Gaupefot’s comment claims a failed 2004 attempt to donate to John Kerry’s campaign. The correct translation of the last line is, essentially, “If I actually could have given money to Obama, I would have done it.”
The GAI did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the report and on this glaring error. It is unclear how many of the other translations throughout the report report also relied on Google Translator — a literal translation service that is incapable of understanding nuance or context.
Despite a wide array of irresponsible headlines, it is now clear that the authors did not find a single example of a foreigner donating to the Obama re-election campaign.