Has the Obama campaign made a regular practice of accepting illegal foreign campaign contributions, as the research of Kenneth Timmerman suggests?
Well, if one is to judge by an article published last month by the Italian columnist Maria Laura Rodotà, in certain European circles such contributions would appear to be an open secret. Moreover, Rodotà’s account of being inundated by emails from the Obama campaign suggests that the campaign may not only have been accepting illegal foreign campaign contributions, but that it may have been soliciting them. Here is what Maria Laura Rodotà writes in her October 2 column in the major Italian daily Corriere della Sera [Italian link]:
Oh God. It’s my fault. And your fault. And also the fault of that friend of yours who gave her email to the Obama campaign. They have been writing us for a year, the Obama people — several times a day. They’ve sent us videos of Barack, they’ve responded to criticisms, they’ve laid down the party line, they’ve sold gadgets. They’ve invited us to interesting events like “Camp Obama” in California. … At the foot of each email, they’d ask for small contributions, even just five dollars — which won’t even get you breakfast here in downtown Milan. We never gave a cent. The cheapskates said, “You can’t do that,” they’d be foreign contributions; others sent donations from fake American addresses. Real or fake, live or online, you felt part of a community of like-minded persons, all normal and liberal.
Of course, the campaign’s mailing lists could well include the email addresses of American citizens living abroad or of foreign nationals who — like the “friend of the friend” of Rodotà — signed up without the campaign’s knowledge. But, as with contributions made via the campaign website, it would be up to the campaign to do the necessary vetting to distinguish between citizens and non-citizens and to take the necessary measures to prevent foreign contributions. Astonishingly, Timmerman found that the campaign website had actually turned off standard security features that would have minimized such contributions: for example, by requiring the verification of addresses.
The emphasis in the emails described by Rodotà on small contributions [contributi minimi] is particularly intriguing. As Timmerman has discussed, election finance law does not require the sources of contributions under $200 to be identified. (The donors must be identified, however, if their aggregate donations exceed this amount.) Based on the financial data available as of late September, some $222.7 million in contributions to the Obama campaign — or over half the total amount declared at that time — had come in the form of such “small contributions.” The Obama campaign, unlike the McCain campaign, has not released the names of these “small donors.”
In the meanwhile, Timmerman has calculated that over $6 million in contributions to the Obama campaign from identified sources were made in non-rounded dollar amounts: such as $223.88, $388.67, and $876.09. This odd anomaly suggests that the dollar amounts were converted from foreign currencies. The donors in question gave a total of over $30 million. Timmerman speculates that roughly the same amount of non-itemized contributions from unidentified donors may have come from foreign sources. Of course, if foreign sources were being specifically targeted for “small” contributions, in order to circumvent the disclosure requirements, this could well be a conservative estimate. Timmerman’s calculations, moreover, do not include the Obama campaign’s record haul of $150 million in contributions for September, nor, of course, do they include the as yet unavailable figures for October.
(As I have discussed in an earlier article, at least one major foreign contribution to the Obama campaign was made in plain view: namely, the massive in-kind contribution made by the city of Berlin in hosting the candidate’s famous speech at Berlin’s Victory Column.)
Given months of downright adulation of Obama in so much of the European media — the mirror image of the preceding years of denigration/demonization of George W. Bush in these same media — a large part of Obama’s foreign contributions will surely have come from Europe.
Maria Laura Rodotà’s column is the only example the present author has come across of a European source openly discussing the phenomenon. It would undoubtedly be highly instructive if other Europeans would come forward with their own experiences.