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Mike McNally

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October 25, 2012 - 12:02 am

It’s been reported that Barack Obama’s re-election campaign is knowingly accepting donations from non-U.S. citizens, and PJ Media can confirm that it’s not only possible, but very easy, for foreign citizens to make contributions. I’ve been able to donate $25 to the Obama campaign in three separate transactions, despite being a lifelong British citizen resident in the UK. What’s more, two of my donations were processed despite the Obama campaign noting that I had provided a non-U.S. address, and despite my failure to provide proof of American citizenship when asked to do so.

I first tried to donate on October 6, via the donation page at BarackObama.com, the president’s official re-election campaign website. I entered my name, and my UK street address and city, as I figured that at a minimum I would need to supply these in order for my bank to process the transaction. I also supplied my email address.

However, in order to progress to the next screen I had to provide a U.S. state, postcode, and phone number. I have relatives in Massachusetts, so I chose MA from the list and entered my relatives’ postcode and a variation on their phone number, with the last four numbers changed so the state and area codes would be correct.

I then entered my debit card number (this is a card that draws on my checking account, as distinct from a credit card) and expiration date, but I was not asked to enter the three-digit CVV (card-verification value) number on the back of the card; I had seen reports that the Obama campaign had disabled the requirement to supply this number.

I clicked “donate,” and despite my intention to test the system, I was a little surprised to see that my donation was, initially at least, accepted – I figured it was still possible that the discrepancies in the address would show up. I received an acknowledgement of my donation from the Obama campaign via email, although the email did add that the donation was “subject to review.” I then made a second donation, for $5, so that I could take a screen grab of the page you see below.

As a control, I then tried to make a donation to the Romney campaign, entering the same information. This time, I was asked for the three-digit CVV number, and when I clicked “donate” I was immediately informed that the address I had entered did not match the address on file for the card.

I wasn’t entirely surprised when, on October 9, I received an email from the “compliance” department at the Obama campaign. The email said that, because I’d supplied a foreign address, I would need to supply a copy of the photo page from my U.S. passport in order to comply with Federal Election Commission regulations. I don’t have a U.S. passport of course, so I didn’t respond to the email. (Oddly, the email also said I needed to supply the passport page “even though you provided a passport number when donating online”; I hadn’t supplied a passport number when I donated, or been asked to supply one.)

 

I got the same email regarding the $5 donation, and I assumed that was the end of the line for my attempted donations. However, because the email didn’t say anything about my details not matching the card, and only asked me to provide proof of U.S. citizenship, I thought I’d have another go at donating. This time I provided an entirely false Massachusetts address, listing the main street of the town where my relatives live in case this was checked against the zip code, and a random house number. Again, the donation was accepted by the website, and I received the same thank-you email stating that the donation was “subject to review.”

I waited a few days, but this time I heard nothing from the Obama campaign’s “compliance” people. I thought that perhaps, as I hadn’t responded to their request for proof of identity for the first two donations, another donation from the same card would automatically be rejected. I then went on a trip for a few days. I checked my email, and while I received general fundraising emails from the Obama campaign, there was no further news on my donations.

However, when I checked my bank account online last week, I found that all three donations had been processed by my bank…

I was surprised that the third donation had been accepted, given that I’d supplied an address entirely unrelated to my bank details. But I was even more surprised to discover that the first two donations had been processed; after all, the campaign had detected that I’d supplied an overseas address, and I’d failed to supply proof of U.S. citizenship when requested to do so.

The flaw in the system appears to be the fact that the Obama website does not require you to enter the CVV number for your card. I don’t know about the U.S., but in the UK this would be highly unusual. In fact, I don’t recall ever being able to make a purchase with a debit or credit card, on the internet or over the phone, without supplying the CVV number.

At best, the Obama campaign is neglecting to implement the necessary procedures to ensure that donations from non-U.S. citizens are not accepted. At worst – and given that I was unable to donate to the Romney campaign, this seems the more likely scenario – the Obama campaign is deliberately failing to implement basic security measures in order to collect donations from foreign citizens.

PJ Media will be contacting the Obama campaign to ask for an explanation, and the Federal Election Commission to inform them of our findings. We’ll report back when we get responses from them.

Mike McNally is a journalist based in Bath, England. He posts at PJ Tatler and at his own blog Monkey Tennis, and tweets at @notoserfdom. When he's not writing about politics he writes about Photoshop.
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