What exactly does the fake Obama campaign donor names *mean*, really?

Conservatives argue this is “fraud” and “criminal,” especially after one blogger put in obviously fake info and got a donation accepted by the campaign website with that info.

Assuming that a significant number of these names and information are made up, what exactly does that mean about the money itself and the campaign’s handling of it?

In theory, wealthy individuals could donate many small sums under fake names, thus getting around the maximum per individual.

In theory.

I think Mickey Mouse is very wealthy.

So, is it really destroying the fabric of Democracy, as McCain alleges? I can’t see how a college kid’s half-assed prank could do that.

If the obviously fake info included a fake credit card number, then what it means is that the Obama campaign went bankrupt a few months ago, because they don’t know how to process credit cards. I don’t think that actually happened, though.

It is criminal to donate under a fake name. And I can assume that prosecutors will look into it.

It could also be a way for people ineligible to donate money to donate.

So if the Obama campaign has to give back Donald Duck’s donation, where do they send it?

A very wealthy individual with a whole lost of time on his or her hands could make up a million different funny names and then donate $25 to Obama under each funny name, thus flooding Obama’s coffers with tainted booty. Then, after the election, said eccentric and corrupt billionaire could approach Obama and demand an appointment as Secretary of the Treasury in order to take $100 million out of the bailout fund and divert it to his or her own personal use, thus making a $75 million profit.
Or something like that.

Are these names the ones shown on a website or are they on the documents submitted to the Federal Election Commission? Due to circumstances beyond my control I haven’t donated to Mr Obama’s campaign (though if he needed a few bucks to help cover jet fuel to visit his grandmom I’m there for him) but I assume there is a way to list the name the name on your credit card and how you want to be listed on the website. Another tempest in an artificial teapot.

I think it shows that the Obama campaign is trying to circumvent federal election laws.

Here and here are blogs where some people claimed to have donated to Obama with a valid credit card number but fake name/address. They were not able to do so with the Hillary or McCain campaigns. In fact, it appears that the Obama campaign deliberately turned off AVS, or Address Verification System, a simple tool designed to prevent fraud.

If you want to donate to the Obama campaign, try it with a fake name and see if goes through. They may have fixed it by now.

Why would they do that if they were trying to circumvent federal election laws?

I don’t know that they’ve fixed it. But within the last week, people have claimed to have been able to make donations using a fake name with a valid credit card number. If you’re not able to do that now, either those people were lying or the Obama campaign fixed the AVS settings.

I don’t think they’re trying to circumvent the laws, but I’m also not sure how they’re supposed to be able to distinguish real names from fake names. It’d be great to have such a system, but unless there’s one that’s foolproof, the onus seems to be on the donator, not on the donatee, to be honest.


The AVS is a security tool that matches up names with credit card numbers, as I understand it. According to the blogs I linked to, you can deactivate the default security settings on credit card processing. This will allow you to accept transactions with no billing address match, no street address match, no zip code match, etc.

And when Bob Smith and Sue Smith want to donate to the campaign individually, both at maximum, from the same credit card account? I think the point Left Hand of Dorkness was making was, as he said, “I’m also not sure how they’re supposed to be able to distinguish real names from fake names.” The system could be set up to allow a maximum donation from an address, you’re right. But, that makes it pretty hard for two or three people living in the same house on the same bank account to donate.

If they’re both valid users of the credit card, it isn’t a problem. The point I’m making is when Bob Smith has maxed out his donations, and so has his wife, apparently they can make donations to the Obama campaign using the name Joe Watson, even though Joe Watson is not a valid user of the credit card. The AVS, I believe, is designed to prevent this from happening by verifying names and addresses. Unless the safeguards are deactivated.

Are you suggesting that there aren’t countless transactions occuring each day by people who aren’t listed on their spouse’s account, but are nonetheless authorized by the spouse to make such a transaction?

Not that I’m suggesting that this is in line with VISA or MasterCard’s policies. But it happens, frequently, and usually without a second thought by the spouse.

Even taking these bloggers at face value and assuming they were willing to commit fraud and donate to their opponent’s campaign to prove a point, I don’t think this proves any kind of scandal.

The McCain campaign only asks for a billing address, not a home address. So how do they prevent donations from people who now live outside the country? Answer: either they don’t, or they do it the same way the Obama campaign does (i.e. not AVS). But even if McCain’s campaign sets a higher security threshold, it’s sort of silly to compare the McCain campaign’s controls to the Obama campaign’s. It’s easy to be over-secure and prevent legitimate donors when your campaign is publicly-financed.

Using AVS creates many false negatives. Americans abroad, for example, will have difficulties because AVS only supports U.S. banks. Not to mention the issues of having one’s name on the card, etc. Presumably the Obama campaign faced a decision at some point: set the credit card security such that some valid donors will be prevented from donating or such that some invalid now-felons will not be prevented. If they thought they could catch all or most of the invalid donors by other means, I don’t think you can blame them for choosing the first option. The law certainly doesn’t force them to let some third-party corporation do their eligibility screening.

If it should turn out that the system was used by wealthy donors or foreigners to circumvent campaign finance laws (and I assume given sufficient time the FEC could determine this), I’ll be the first to get on board amendments to the FEC law requiring campaigns to do more. But in the absence of any such evidence (and we don’t even know if the bloggers fraudulent contributions have gotten spent–the Obama can take as long as it wants to review them so long as it doesn’t spend them first), to ask the Obama campaign to screen out legit donors when we don’t even know if it is preventing fraud is asking a little too much IMHO. I know Dems are supposed to be the good guys, but they shouldn’t have to be the self-sacrificial guys.