FEC Rules Leave Loopholes For Online Donation Data Reports Of Irregularities In Donations Under $200 Raise Questions Of Who Bears The Burden Of Filtering Out Improper Money by Neil Munro Friday, Oct. 24, 2008 The increasing use of online financial tools, debit cards and prepaid credit cards to make political contributions has created technological loopholes in federal and public oversight of campaign donations. The result has been a recent spate of news stories raising questions about apparently implausible or suspicious donations to the presidential campaigns. Right-of-center activists also claim that Barack Obama‘s campaign has collected tens of millions of dollars from suspect overseas donors. Their complaints spurred the Republican National Committee on Oct. 6 to ask the Federal Election Commission for an investigation of the Obama donations. To test the campaigns’ practices, this author bought two pre-paid American Express gift cards worth $25 each to donate to the Obama and McCain campaigns online. As required by law, the campaigns’ Web sites asked for, and National Journal provided, the donor’s correct name, location and employment. The cards were purchased with cash at a Washington, D.C., drugstore, and the campaigns’ Web sites were accessed through a public computer at a library in Fairfax County, Virginia. The Obama campaign’s Web site accepted the $25 donation, but the McCain campaign’s Web site rejected it. Rebecca Donatelli, president of Campaigns Solutions of Alexandria, Va., which processes donations for John McCain, said her system rejected the donation because American Express could not verify that the donor lived at the address given with the online contribution. The McCain campaign does accept normal credit card donations because staffers can easily check whether the owner of the credit card shares the same billing address as the listed donor, she said. That address-check process costs the campaign about 12 cents, she said. “We could lower our standards and accept more money… but this is John McCain’s campaign, and he wants to root out fraud in fund raising and have everything open and as honest as possible,” said Donatelli.Obama campaign spokesman Nick Shapiro said, “We review our contributions to ensure that the information donors provide is complete and verifiable. We would only accept a contribution from a pre-paid credit card if the donor provides complete and verifiable information, consistent with FEC guidelines.”
FEC spokesman Robert Biersack said, “The committees are responsible for providing accurate information about the identifying characteristics of their donor….
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