Fox Hypes Unsubstantiated Claim That Obama May Be Receiving Illegal Foreign Donations

››› ››› MIKE BURNS

Fox has seized on a conservative group's report to suggest President Obama's reelection campaign is receiving millions of dollars in illegal donations from foreign donors. In fact, the report provides no evidence to support this claim and the group's co-founder has himself acknowledged that it possesses no such evidence.

Report Found That Almost Half Of Online Visitors To Obama Campaign Website Were From Outside U.S.

Government Accountability Institute Used Findings To Suggest Obama Donation Website Could Be Receiving Foreign Donations. On September 26, the Government Accountability Institute (GAI) issued a report showing that 43 percent of online traffic going to the Obama campaign website came from foreign countries. The report stated that both Americans living abroad and foreign nationals interested in the president make up part of the international traffic to the campaign website, but did not claim that the Obama campaign had received any unlawful contributions. From the report:

The main campaign website BarackObama.com receives approximately 43% of its traffic from foreign IP addresses, according to Markosweb.com. Though Americans living abroad no doubt generate some of this interest, the majority is likely from foreign nationals. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with the President's international attention, his donation pages' lack of CVV means that this interest creates significant vulnerabilities for the integrity of the campaign's donation process. [Government Accountability Institute, 9/26/12]

Fox Seized On Report To Cast Doubt On Obama Donations

Steve Doocy: "If Your Number Is Accurate, And It's 43 Percent Comes From International, We're Talking Tens Of Millions Of Dollars." On Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy seized on the GAI report to claim that Obama's reelection campaign may be receiving tens of millions of dollars from foreign sources in violation of federal law. Interviewing GAI co-founder and conservative activist Stephen Bannon and president and co-founder Peter Schweizer, Doocy said: "If your number is accurate, and it's 43 percent comes from international, we're talking tens of millions of dollars." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 10/8/12, via Media Matters]

Sean Hannity: Obama Campaign Site "Does Allow For A Foreigner To Make A Contribution Without Proper Disclosure." Introducing an interview with Bannon and Schweizer, Hannity said, "My next guests say they have a new bombshell report showing how the Obama campaign website makes it possible to receive contributions from foreign nationals in countries all around the world," adding: "As of now there's no confirmation that they may be doing this knowingly, but the website does allow for a foreigner to make a contribution without proper disclosure." [Fox News, Hannity, 10/8/12]

Monica Crowley: Obama's Foreign Web Traffic "Makes It Much Easier For Foreign Donations" To Come Into His Campaign. Discussing the GAI report, Fox News contributor Monica Crowley said the fact that 43 percent of online traffic going to the Obama campaign website comes from foreign countries "makes it much easier for foreign donations, which are illegal under our system, to come into" Obama's campaign:

CROWLEY: Now, we're not talking about donations, but we're talking about the total traffic. But it makes it much easier for foreign donations which are illegal under our system to come into the Barack Obama campaign.

[...]

CROWLEY: Under the system we have now, if you donate to a campaign and it's under $200 it doesn't have to be reported. So you can have all kinds of dummy people mocked up. You can have dummy corporations mocked up. If they're donating under $200 it doesn't have to be reported. We saw this problem last time around, 4 years ago, with the Obama campaign. All these investigations showed that so many of his campaign donations, hundreds of millions of dollars, could not be traced. They were untraceable. One of the reasons why is, as you just pointed out, there was no, and there still, on the barackobama.com website, there is no verification firewall, meaning if you on any website and you buy something, usually you have to type in the credit card security number, that three number thing.

There are all kinds of firewalls so that they can trace you to that credit card, you as an American citizen, you as to a U.S. address. The Obama campaign does not have that firewall in place. They got caught last time around, 4 years ago, not having this in place. They fixed it. But this time around when they ought to have known better, if we give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn't know what that was. They ought to have known better, and they still don't have it in place. And here's the kicker, Eric (Bolling, Your World guest host). The kicker is, on that barackobama.com website, if you want to go on that site and buy campaign merchandise, an Obama t-shirt or a cap, you have to type in all of that information so the firewall exists for all of the swag but not for the actual donations. [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto, 10/8/12]

Fox Nation: "Report: Foreign Fundraising Scandal Rocks Obama Campaign." Fox Nation linked to a Washington Examiner article on the GAI report under the headline "Report: Foreign Fundraising Scandal Rocks Obama Campaign." The Washington Examiner article was headlined "Report: Obama.com solicits foreign contributions for prez."

[Fox Nation, 10/8/12]

In Fact, GAI Has Made Clear Report Alleges No Wrongdoing

GAI Co-Founder Acknowledged GAI Has No Evidence That Obama's Campaign Has Received Donations From Foreign Sources. On Fox & Friends, Bannon acknowledged that GAI has no evidence to support the claim that Obama's reelection campaign has received tens of millions of dollars from foreign sources in violation of federal law. From Fox & Friends:

DOOCY: If your number is accurate, and it's 43 percent comes from international, we're talking tens of millions of dollars.

BANNON: Forty-three is what goes to their homepage and goes back. We're not saying that 43 percent comes, but that has to be checked. Without credit card security --

DOOCY: Because you don't know.

BANNON: You don't know. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 10/8/12, via Media Matters]

GAI's Schweizer Admitted Foreign And Fraudulent Donations Are Just A "Concern." Writing in the Daily Beast, GAI president and co-founder Peter Schweizer and Newsweek's Peter J. Boyer highlighted the GAI report and said that "there has been surprisingly little focus on perhaps the most secretive and influential financial force in politics today: the wide-open coffers of the Internet." Schweizer and Boyer further wrote that unlike other presidential campaigns, Obama's "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." Schweizer and Boyer noted that fraudulent and foreign donations are a "concern," but at no point said that the Obama campaign is receiving illegal donations. [Daily Beast, 10/8/12]

Erick Erickson Fails To Document Evidence That Obama's Campaign Is Committing Some Sort Of Fraud Through An "Illegal Donor Loophole." In an October 8 Red State blog post headlined "I Donated to Barack Obama," CNN contributor Erick Erickson documented his attempt to demonstrate that Obama's campaign is committing fraud through an "illegal donor loophole" that allows them to accept contributions from overseas. In the 13th paragraph Erickson indicates that after attempting to donate to Obama as a Russian with a made-up passport number, he had his contribution rejected by the campaign. [Media Matters10/8/12]

Slate's Dave Weigel: GAI Report "Includes A Series Of Blog Posts From Foreigners Talking About The Ease Of Giving, But Not Saying That They've Actually Given." In an October 8 post, Slate's Dave Weigel wrote that the GAI report is "not conclusive. How could it be?" Weigel added, "You can't easily determine whether a foreign national has given a donation. This report includes a series of blog posts from foreigners talking about the ease of giving, but not saying that they've actually given." [Slate, 10/8/12]

Obama Campaign Has Protections In Place To Prevent Illegal Donations

Obama Campaign: "Credit Card Contributions To Obama For America Are, In Fact, Processed Using" Address Verification System. In a post on the Election Law Blog, election law expert Rick Hasen posted a statement from the Obama campaign rejecting claims that it doesn't follow certain practices to prevent fraudulent campaign donations:

"Credit card contributions to Obama for America are, in fact, processed using AVS (Address Verification System).

"If a billing address is verified via AVS, then the credit card contribution is processed without delay. Some transactions caught by AVS may initially appear to a donor to have been accepted even though this is not the case. Obama for America employs a manual process to review any transaction flagged by AVS, also taking into account other fraud risk factors, and using fraud detection services provided by our credit card processor.

"As an example, the contribution discussed here http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2012/04/dubious-donations-illustra... may have initially appeared to have gone through when the donor completed the transaction at 10:18 a.m. but it was rejected at 4:51 p.m. under our standard fraud detection procedures.

"So any claims that Obama for America has disabled AVS are inaccurate; any question about this would have been answered -- if the question had been asked." [Election Law Blog, 10/8/12]

Obama Campaign Fact Check: "Obama For America Only Accepts Contributions From Eligible Americans." An Obama campaign blog post explained that the campaign "only accepts contributions from eligible Americans," and does not accept "donations from foreign nationals or any other ineligible individual." The post, headlined "Fact check: Obama for America only accepts contributions from eligible Americans," further explained that the campaign uses the Address Verification System to ensure the legitimacy of all credit card contributions:

OFA does not accept donations from foreign nationals or any other ineligible individual -- and the campaign voluntarily goes above and beyond Federal Election Commitments to ensure the integrity of fundraising efforts.

Here's how we do that:

  • All credit card contributions are processed using AN Address Verification System (AVS) to ensure their legitimacy.
  • OFA invests significant resources into a manual process to review any transaction that's been flagged by the campaign's credit card processor's fraud detection services.
  • Though not required by law, OFA requires a copy of a valid passport from any contributor who has been affirmed as eligible but donates with a mailing address outside the U.S. If they do not offer in one in a timely manner, the donation is returned.
  • OFA screens all online credit card contributions that originate from a foreign IP address and, if any questions arise regarding the contributor's U.S. citizenship, the campaign requests proof of a current and valid U.S. passport in order to be in compliance with the FEC's safe harbor guidelines.

OFA has strong and rigorous safeguards in place to ensure our donors are eligible and that our fundraising efforts comply with all U.S. laws and regulations. While no campaign can control who visits their websites, OFA is in no way directing solicitations to foreign nationals nor knowingly seeking foreign contributions -- that is the legal standard. [BarackObama.com, 10/8/12, (emphasis original)]

FEC Audit In 2008 Found No Evidence To Back Up Similar Illegal Donation Claims

WSJ: In 2008, Republicans Filed FEC Complaint Alleging Obama Campaign Was "Accepting Donations From Foreign Nationals." In a 2008 article about Republicans' concerns over whether the Obama campaign was "accepting donations from foreign nationals," the Wall Street Journal wrote:

Republican Party officials said they will file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission Monday asking for an audit of Barack Obama's campaign contributions.

In announcing the move Sunday, they said they were concerned that the Democratic presidential candidate may be accepting donations from foreign nationals, and may also be taking a large number of donations that exceed federal limits for individuals.

U.S. law prohibits foreign nationals from contributing to American candidates, but campaigns from both parties have sought money from Americans living abroad.

The Republican Party cited a large amount of money coming to the Democratic presidential candidate from overseas, and a small amount of money that he has returned from foreigners, in explaining their complaint.

The party's lawyers also pointed to news reports of foreigners giving money to Sen. Obama, although the Obama campaign says it has either rejected or returned the money. [The Wall Street Journal, 10/6/08]

Wash. Post: "FEC Audit ... Found No Evidence To Substantiate Those Allegations." In an article reporting on an audit of Obama's 2008 campaign by the Federal Election Commission, the Washington Post wrote:

In 2008, Republicans made an issue out of the millions in small donations that Obama's campaign raised in the last two months of the campaign, charging that he was accepting money from foreigners or fictitious people.

The FEC audit, which included an investigation of "contributions from prohibited sources," found no evidence to substantiate those allegations. [The Washington Post, 4/19/12]

Former FEC Chief Michael Toner: "The FEC Spent Two Years Picking Over $750 Million In Contributions And Expenses And Found One Violation." Following the release of the Federal Election Commission's report, Michael Toner, a former FEC chairman, stated that the FEC report was "a very clean audit report for the Obama campaign," adding, "The FEC spent two years picking over $750 million in contributions and expenses and found one violation." From the article:

U.S. President Barack Obama's 2008 election campaign failed to properly report nearly $2 million in last-minute donations to the juggernaut that swept him into the White House, but that was the only violation found in a Federal Election Commission audit of Obama's $778 million campaign.

The audit, posted online on Thursday, shows Obama's campaign did not file notifications on time for 1,312 donations totaling $1,972,266, received before the November vote.

The law requires campaigns to submit notices to the FEC about contributions of $1,000 or more received less than 20 days but more than 48 hours before an election.

"Overall, this is a very clean audit report for the Obama campaign. The FEC spent two years picking over $750 million in contributions and expenses and found one violation," said Michael Toner, a former FEC chairman and now a lawyer at Wiley Rein in Washington.

According to the FEC tally, Obama's campaign that year raised $778 million. It did ultimately report the donations in question, most of which came through a transfer from the joint fund it shared with the Democratic National Committee, but not on time, according to the audit file. [Reuters, 4/19/12]

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