By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 6, 2008
The Republican National Committee wants the Federal Election Commission to investigate the source of thousands of small contributions to the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, a committee lawyer said yesterday.
The RNC's chief counsel, Sean Cairncross, said that there is mounting evidence that the Obama campaign was so hungry for donations it "looked the other way" as contributions piled up from suspicious donors, and possibly even from overseas, which would be illegal.
"We believe that the American people should know first and foremost if foreign money is pouring into a presidential election," Cairncross said.
He pointed to a report in the current issue of Newsweek magazine that documents a handful of instances in which donors made repeated small contributions using fake names, such as "Good Will" and "Doodad Pro." FEC auditors told the campaign that Good Will gave a total of more than $11,000 and Doodad Pro $17,130 -- far above the maximum allowable individual contribution of $2,300.
Newsweek also reported that earlier this year, two Palestinian brothers in the Gaza Strip paid $33,000 for a bulk order of T-shirts from the campaign's online store. (Those purchases count as contributions.) The brothers had listed their address as "Ga.," which the campaign took to mean Georgia rather than Gaza. The campaign later returned the money.
"While no organization is completely protected from Internet fraud, we will continue to review our fundraising procedures," Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt told the magazine.
A federal fundraising rule lets campaigns accept donations of less than $200 without itemizing the names and addresses of the donors on its campaign finance reports.
The rule was intended as a matter of practicality: It did not seem reasonable to ask a campaign to gather that information from every $5 donor. But the Obama campaign has raised millions of dollars this way, donations that will not be subject to outside scrutiny.
Obama campaign aides said yesterday that a number of steps have been taken to safeguard against foreign or illegal contributions.