Newsweek Goes Live With The Obama-Foreign-Donor Story

It’s a bombshell, but for a while it looked like they’d spiked the story. Now it’s up

Further complicating the issue are websites like Obama.com—which is owned not by the Obama campaign but by Robert Roche, an American businessman and Obama fundraiser who lives in Shanghai. Roche’s China-based media company, Acorn International, runs infomercials on Chinese state television. Obama.com redirects to a specific donation page on BarackObama.com, the official campaign website. Unlike BarackObama.com, Obama.com’s traffic is 68 percent foreign, according to markosweb.com, a traffic-analysis website. According to France-based web analytics site Mustat.com, Obama.com receives over 2,000 visitors every day.

The name Robert W. Roche appears 11 times in the White House visitors log during the Obama administration. Roche also sits on the Obama administration’s Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations, and is a co-chair of Technology for Obama, a fundraising effort. (In an email exchange, Roche declined to discuss his website, or his support for the Obama reelection effort, referring the inquiries to the Obama campaign team. The Obama campaign, in turn, says it has no control over Roche’s website; it also says only 2 percent of the donations associated with Obama.com come from overseas.)

But it isn’t just foreign donations that are a concern. So are fraudulent donations. In the age of digital contributions, fraudsters can deploy so-called robo-donations, computer programs that use false names to spew hundreds of donations a day in small increments, in order to evade reporting requirements. According to an October 2008 Washington Post article, Mary Biskup of Missouri appeared to give more than $170,000 in small donations to the 2008 Obama campaign. Yet Biskup said she never gave any money to the campaign. Some other contributor gave the donations using her name, without her knowledge. (The Obama campaign explained to the Post that it caught the donations and returned them.)

This makes it all the more surprising that the Obama campaign does not use a standard security tool, the card verification value (CVV) system—the three- or four-digit number often imprinted on the back of a credit card, whose purpose is to verify that the person executing the purchase (or, in this case, donation) physically possesses the card. The Romney campaign, by contrast, does use the CVV—as has almost every other candidate who has run for president in recent years, from Hillary Clinton in 2008 to Ron Paul this year. (The Obama campaign says it doesn’t use the CVV because it can be an inhibiting factor for some small donors.) Interestingly, the Obama campaign’s online store requires the CVV to purchase items like hats or hoodies (the campaign points out that its merchandise vendor requires the tool).

And this, which is chilling…

We also focused on the Obama campaign because it is far more successful than Romney when it comes to small donors—which the Internet greatly helps to facilitate. In September the Obama campaign brought in its biggest fundraising haul—$181 million. Nearly all of that amount (98 percent) came from small donations, through 1.8 million transactions.

The author of the piece is Peter Schweizer, who wrote a great book called Throw Them All Out, an expose’ on corruption in politics. Schweizer is the president of the Government Accountability Institute, which is behind a new website at CampaignFundingRisks.com. At that site you’ll find the full report, America The Vulnerable, on how the internet and campaign fundraising have combined to create a climate fraught with risk of abuse.

And in that 109-page report is a rather full rundown of the Obama.com saga skimmed over in the Newsweek story, and a relating of the Robert Roche story. It’s difficult to look through the material in the report and not come to the conclusion that Roche is doing the dirty work of enabling foreign donations to the president, with the campaign’s full cooperation.

Will this amount to much? Well, the conservative blogosphere, talk radio and Fox News are already buzzing about it. But the question is whether the scandal will reach beyond that. If it does, the public will surely be outraged. And that’s a development the already-reeling Obama campaign certainly can’t afford.

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