Have you heard about the hot new Obama scandal? According to Fox News, the Daily Caller, the Washington Examiner, the Free Beacon, Town Hall, et al., the Obama campaign is soliciting donations from foreigners via its website in direct violation of U.S. election law. Donald Trump took this charge to its logical, birthery conclusion, tweeting a link to a story about the scandal along with the brilliant quip: "Foreign candidate getting foreign donations."
Criminal activity! Foreigners! Attempts to steal the election! The story has all the makings of a major scandal ready to roil the campaign and expose Obama's corruption. There are just two small caveats: First, this is all a bit (read: entirely) overblown, and second, these new allegations were already made and rebutted four years ago.
The nut of the allegations come from a new report from the Government Accountability Institute, which notes that with the rise of online campaign donation tools, candidates of both parties and at all levels run the risk (unwittingly or intentionally) of accepting foreign donations. The Obama campaign’s website is marginally more vulnerable than others because it doesn't use a credit card verification value, which asks donors for those three numbers on the back of the credit card (the Obama campaign says it doesn't use a CVV because it deters small donations; more than 200 members of Congress don't use it for their campaigns, either).
But the Obama website includes other security features to keep out foreign donors, such as requiring anyone donating from a foreign address to present a passport number. And the single case of a foreigner actually successfully donating to the Obama campaign that GAI report or any bloggers have been able to identify was based on an erroneous translation of an unverified account from a Norwegian blogger. The report, which apparently relied on Google Translate, said the blogger reported successfully donating to Obama via the website. But three Norwegian speakers, including a scholar of the language, told Josh Israel of ThinkProgress that the blogger actually wrote that he would donate to Obama if he could.
Nonetheless, even the Republican National Committee is getting involved, sending a very serious-sounding letter to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting an investigation into allegations that “President Obama’s re-election campaign committee has solicited and accepted illegal donations from foreign nationals.”
If this all sounds a bit familiar, it’s because this hot new scandal is sort of a reheating of the hot new scandal of October 2008. That year, conservative blogs, chain emails and eventually the RNC made hay of Obama’s much-vaunted online donation effort, warning that foreigners were using the Obama online donation operation -- then a fairly novel innovation -- to illegally donate to the candidate. “Secret, Foreign Money Floods Into Obama Campaign,” a NewsMax headline blared.
At first, the FEC demurred to investigate, but after much agitating, Republicans finally succeeded last year in convincing the election commission to audit Obama’s 2008 campaign. The foreign donors would finally be exposed! So what did the FEC find? As the Washington Post reported in April of this year, after the audit was complete:
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 audit did, however, find that OFA had failed to disclose $2 million in contributions made in the 48 hours immediately preceding the election. It’s a clear violation, though not the one the RNC was looking for, and OFA could be fined up to 10 percent of those funds in penalties (so far, it appears the FEC has not proceeded with enforcement action).
How devastating was this report? "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," Michael Toner, a former FEC chairman who is now a lawyer at Wiley Rein in Washington, told Reuters. Well, Toner must be some kind of left-wing stooge, right? If so, he did a very good job of hiding when he served as chief counsel to the RNC, general counsel to George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign and transition team, and counsel to the Dole/Kemp Presidential Campaign in 1996. That was all before Bush recess-appointed him to chair the FEC in 2006.