The Government Accountability Institute (GAI) on Wednesday called out the Obama campaign for refusing to address the ownership of the Obama.com domain by a campaign bundler who lives and has business interests in China. GAI also alleged that the Obama campaign has not fully addressed its weak online security measures to prevent fraudulent or foreign campaign donations.
GAI President Peter Schweizer said GAI was “troubled by the fact that the Obama campaign has nothing to say about one of the main concerns we detailed in our report: the mysterious Obama.com redirect website anonymously owned by China-based campaign bundler Robert Roche.”
“Robert Roche has an unusually close relationship with the Chinese government, to whom he is dependent for the operation of his Chinese-based company, Acorn International,” Schweizer said. “At the same time, he owns this redirect website which sends international web traffic to a contribution page of the president’s campaign.”
The Chinese government has a history of trying influence American elections through campaign contributions, and Roche is not a random figure. He was seated at the head table of the China State Dinner in 2011.
Immediately after the progressive magazine Newsweek published a story, based on a nine-month GAI investigation of how easily foreigners can illicitly donate to President Barack Obama’s campaign due to lax online security measures, the Obama campaign responded with a purported “fact-check” that tried to dismiss the report as a partisan attack on the Obama campaign.
However, the report pointed out the vulnerabilities of Republicans and Democrats to fraudulent or foreign donations. The report noted Mitt Romney’s campaign’s vulnerabilities and highlighted vulnerabilities on Marco Rubio’s online donation pages during his 2010 Senate campaign.
“It’s disappointing that the Obama campaign purposefully misconstrues GAI’s concerns about foreign solicitations,” Schweizer said. “The fact of the matter is that knowingly soliciting donations from foreign individuals is against the law.”
GAI also noted the Obama campaign’s “fact-check” did not even bother to acknowledge some of the most important and salient facts from GAI’s investigation.
“Our report is a comprehensive analysis of a bipartisan problem: the vulnerabilities that campaigns face when it comes to fraudulent and foreign donations,” Schweizer explained. “The Obama campaign is particularly vulnerable because of its aggressive solicitation of online donations, their failure to employ rigorous, industry-standard anti-fraud security tools (CVV and AVS), and because the name 'Obama' is a global brand.”
Schweizer notes the “Obama campaign is the most technologically sophisticated campaign when it comes to social media, data mining, and micro targeting,” but it “makes no apparent effort to determine whether the individuals signing up their email addresses on the campaign’s website can legally donate to the campaign.”
“Is it too much to ask for this highly sophisticated, high tech operation to ask those signing up whether they can legally give?” Schweizer asked.
GAI charged that the Obama campaign’s assertion that it uses an Address Verification System (AVS) is “suspect” because in the campaign’s September fillings with the FEC, the campaign reported over $2 million of donations in which there was no zip code or only 4 digits.
Left out in this report, of course, were donations under $200, which do not have to be fully disclosed per campaign finance laws.
GAI also mentioned foreign nationals on the Obama campaign’s own social media site, my.barackobama.com, have bragged about their contributions to the campaign, and the Obama campaign actively solicits contributions for $190.
“For what purpose does the campaign request donations in this particular amount other than to evade the FEC reporting requirement?” Schweizer asked.
GAI notes, “this is not to suggest that these donations are fraudulent or that the campaign doesn’t employ AVS, it is simply to offer clear evidence that the Obama campaign employs a much looser version of AVS than any other candidate running for president in the last six years.”
Schweizer asserts “the inherent problem” with the current campaign finance system is that consultants are the ones left to police the system.
Last year, research in Schweizer’s book Throw Them All Out led to a “60 Minutes” exposé on congressional insider trading. This report led to a public outcry that forced Congress to pass the STOCK Act, which, for the first time in U.S. history, made it illegal for those inside Congress to engage in insider trading.
The GAI investigation can stir up just as much public pressure to get simple reforms enacted. But no laws are needed for campaigns to employ tougher online security measures.
GAI is “calling for all candidates running for federal office to release the names of all their contributors, even those that the campaigns are not required to disclose,” and for all campaigns “to employ industry-standard, anti-fraud security tools that are common in every online e-commerce sector.”
"Mr. President, are not these reforms important to give the American people greater assurance in the integrity of their campaign finance system?” Schweizer asked. "Mr. President, why should we trust political consultants to police themselves any more than we trust politicians to do the same when no one is watching? Mr. President, why not join our efforts to again bring more transparency, accountability, and reform to our troubled political system?"