A Real Scandal

Maybe the media will get excited about this…after the election. You know, when it won’t really matter anymore. This is a perfect opportunity for Mr. Campaign Finance Reform to beat up on Obama about all the money his campaign is raking in — some apparently in less than legal fashion. If the Republican candidate were outspending the Democrat many times over, including spending $800,000 to an ACORN group to “get out the vote” and accepting money from foreign sources and people whose names look something like this: fklmnp[qiojr[einqgkljqiopj, it would probably be an even bigger story than Palin’s wardrobe expenses. I expect all of this to get one big yawn and then to be labeled as a desperate attempt by John McCain, in spite of the fact that campaign finance is his signature issue.

UPDATE: Here’s one of those oh so easy to understand stories to illustrate the problem with the Obama website:

Erika Franzi, a 36-year-old mother of four, had been following recent news reports examining how people using obviously fake names had made thousands of dollars in contributions to Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign without being detected.

So this afternoon, sitting in her family room at her home in Weaverville, N.C., while her two-year-old was watching “Sesame Street,” Ms. Franzi got on her laptop to conduct an experiment. She used her debit card to make a $15 donation to Mr. Obama’s campaign.

Ms. Franzi, who described herself as conservative and preferring Senator John McCain over Mr. Obama, used the name “Della Ware” and entered an address of 12345 No Way in Far Far Away, DE 78954. Under employer, she listed: Americans Against Obama; for occupation, she typed in: Founder.

To her surprise, she said, her contribution went through in “fewer than three seconds.” Then, in order to be fair, she repeated the experiment on Mr. McCain’s Web site, entering the exact same information. Three times, she said, she received the message: “We have found errors in the information that you submitted. Please review the information below and try again.”

Ms. Franzi’s experiment would not necessarily be notable, except it appears that many others are doing the same thing. Power Line, a conservative political blog, reported a reader had successfully made donations under the names Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Bill Ayers. While those experiences could not be immediately verified, Ms. Franzi sent the Caucus a screenshot from her bank account that showed a contribution to Obama for America going through at 1:02 p.m.

To be fair to the Obama campaign, officials there have said much of their checking for fraud occurs after the transactions have already occurred. When they find something wrong, they then refund the amount.

UPDATE II: Patrick Ruffini is someone I respect immensely. He definitely knows this issue, having been not only eCampaign director for the RNC, but also for the Bush-Cheney campaign. Here is his take on Obama’s web contributions.

The issue centers around the Address Verification Service (or AVS) that credit card processors use to sniff out phony transactions. I was able to contribute money using an address other than the one on file with my bank account (I used an address I control, just not the one on my account), showing that the Obama campaign deliberately disabled AVS for its online donors…

The end result? “Donors” like “Doodad Pro” can submit tons of donations totaling well above the $2,300 limit using different bogus addresses (this does clarify how donations from “Palestine”, or PA, got through). And the campaign has no way to reliably de-dupe these donations, besides looking at the last four digits of the credit card number, which with 3.1 million donors is an identifier that could be shared by literally hundreds of donors, and is not as easy to eyeball like a common name or address would be. The ability to contribute with a false address, when the technology to prevent it not only exists but comes standard, is a green light for fraud.

One could understand the oversight if prior to the bogus donor story breaking. But you’d think they would have taken measures to step up their donor security in the aftermath of the revelations. Having AVS turned on would have stopped or significantly deterred the fraudulent donations (or, at a very minimum, made them easily detectable). By turning this basic setting off, the Obama campaign invited this kind of fraud and has taken no steps to correct it.

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