Campaign-Finance Laws Murdered by Obama

Take money from anyone, just say who.

If you're a conservative, this election has been mostly a progression from bad to worse as both parties chose their most liberal nominees ever, with only the occasional ray of light from the fall of Hillary Clinton and the rise of Sarah Palin.  It's hard to find hopeful signs of positive progress, what with disasters in the economy, incompetent and intrusive government at all levels, and the now naked partisanship of the media's Obamania.

But there is at least one notable accomplishment Barack Obama can claim, whether he wins or loses, which many conservatives have longed for: the death of campaign finance regulations.  Just as it took a Democrat, Bill Clinton, to bring about welfare reform, it's been a Democrat, Barack Obama, who has clearly demonstrated for all to see the utter idiocy of our current scheme of election finance regulations, famously promoted by John McCain.

Government Election Funding?

Of course, election campaigns need money - after all, money is the mother's milk of politics.  The question is where the money should come from.  Traditionally, people donate money to politicians they feel reflects their views, but there have always been concerns that a politician is more likely to listen to a millionaire who can give one tremendous check than to Joe the Plumber and his few bucks.

Hence, Congress has put in place various incentives for candidates to take money from another source - specifically, the government itself.  In a presidential election, for example, each major-party nominee is entitled to $42 million from the Feds as long as they agree to limit the extent of their fundraising and their total spending to $84 million.

The left, and some of the right, have long felt it unseemly for politicians to be constantly chasing dollars from their constituents, much less chasing dollars from people who aren't their constituents.  If somebody is giving you large amounts of desperately needed cash, it's only human for you to lend him or her a sympathetic ear down the road.

What's more, there are only so many hours in the day; an hour spent dialing for dollars is an hour not spent at a campaign rally.  It's been years since a presidential candidate turned down the federal funding.  Barack Obama pledged last year that he would take the money and the strings, as did John McCain.

That was before Obama realized just how much money he could raise.  The Democratic primary was the most expensive one ever, and having seen how much cash there was to be had, why would Obama want to keep his promise and restrict himself to the suddenly penurious-seeming federal limits?  Obama's word, when compared to the glittering prize, was nothing more than a scrap of paper.

So he announced his abandonment of the federal funds and sallied forth on his own.  The results are all that he could have hoped: since the start of his campaign, Obama has raised a staggering $660 million, easily twice what McCain has raised.

The effects are on every TV in the land: for each McCain ad, there are ten from Obama.  How could any future presidential hopeful even consider the federal-funds option?  It would be an admission of weakness, since Obama has proven that you can raise far, far more than that on your own.

But it's not just the idea of federal financing of elections that has been dealt a death-blow.  The restrictions and regulations concerning who can give what are also on life support.

Money that Won't Talk

From the earliest days of American independence, our founders were concerned about foreign influences on our domestic politics; the Federalist Papers discuss this potential danger extensively.  It's pretty obvious that no patriotic American wants someone in power who owes a major debt to a foreign country, particularly one that's not friendly.  But money is money; how do you keep the wrong sort out?

Current rules require candidates to record the name, occupation and address of anyone who donates to the campaign; then, anyone who donates more than $200 must be reported to the FEC and audited for validity so that illegal donations can be returned.  There are always going to be a certain number of errors and a degree of fraud.

Thanks to its heavy emphasis on the Internet, though, Obama fundraising has become a byword for opacity and bogusness.  The Washington Post, no conservatives they, reported:

Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign is allowing donors to use largely untraceable prepaid credit cards that could potentially be used to evade limits on how much an individual is legally allowed to give or to mask a contributor's identity, campaign officials confirmed.  Faced with a huge influx of donations over the Internet, the campaign has also chosen not to use basic security measures to prevent potentially illegal or anonymous contributions from flowing into its accounts, aides acknowledged. Instead, the campaign is scrutinizing its books for improper donations after the money has been deposited.

Anyone who has bought or sold something on the Internet using a credit card knows that most online stores are required to be very picky so as to avoid fraud.  You can't just enter the card number, oh no.  You have to give your full name, your address, even your telephone number; if any of these don't match what the bank has on file for you, expect a "Payment Declined" message.  It's not a perfect system, but it catches the obvious fraudsters for millions upon millions of transactions every day.

Not so Barack Obama's website!  As noted above, not even the most basic security measures are in place; all that matters is that the card be a valid one with sufficient credit to make the donation.

The Internet abounds with blogs written by individuals who have successfully donated to Obama under the name of such luminaries as Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, even Fake Donor - all of whom shortly received a "Dear Adolf: Thanks for your donation!" message from Obama's campaign and a bill on the next statement.  The New York Post explains the campaign's fraud-encouraging choice:

Most merchants selling goods and services use the basic Address Verification System that screens credit-card charges for matching names and addresses. (It can also screen cards issued by foreign banks.) The McCain campaign uses AVS and provides a searchable database of all donors, including those who fall below the $200 threshold. The Obama campaign apparently has chosen not to use the AVS system to screen donations.

What's more, the campaign even accepts online donations from prepaid credit cards which can be purchased for cash at any convenience store.  These, by design, have no name or address whatsoever associated with them.  It really could be Osama bin Laden making the donation.  We'll never know, but we do know that Obama received almost $30,000 from Palestinians living in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, under mysterious and contradictory circumstances; only when this was brought to light in the press did Obama's campaign refund the money.

What we do know is that small-scale audits of Obama's reports - that is, the reports of donations greater than $200, by far the minority of total donations - have turned up large-scale fraud.  The Washington Post reported this interesting event:

Now comes the story of Mary T. Biskup, of Manchester, Missouri. Biskup got a call recently from the Obama campaign, which was trying to figure out why she donated $174,800 to the campaign -- well over the contribution limit of $2,300.  The answer she gave them was simple. "That's an error."  Biskup, a retired insurance manager who occasionally submits recipes to the local paper, says someone used a credit card to donate the money in her name. No charges ever showed up on her credit card statement.

Nobody stole a dime from Mrs. Biskup, they just borrowed her name for a while, but the money was real.  It came from somewhere.  Given that no one individual is allowed to donate more than $2,300, it's crystal clear that the donation was illegal to its core.  Why?  Who?  No clue.

And that's how Barack Obama has put the whole idea of fundraising restrictions in jeopardy.  The money available via online donations is so vast that Congress will never in a million years outlaw them.

On the other hand, it's clearly child's play to circumvent the regulations - perfectly legally on the part of the campaign - so as to, in reality, accept any amount of money from anyone on earth.  Will any politician ever again dare to handicap themselves by attempting to enforce the spirit of the law, as McCain has, when the costs of doing so are so crippling?

Whether or not the law is changed, from now on the donation restrictions are a dead letter, usable only for pursuing political vendettas against your opponent's donors - yet another advantage of incumbency and power.

Now What?

There's a clear solution to this problem, one which Ron Paul illustrated by doing long ago: immediately publish all donors' information on the campaign website.  That way, friends and enemies alike can trawl through the list, pointing out suspicious entries to be investigated and, if necessary, returned before the election.  Not only did this famously allow Dr. Paul to raise staggering sums online as Obama is doing now, Dr. Paul did so without the heavy stench of corruption and fraud that surrounds Obama's operation.

It's time for McCain-Feingold and the other campaign-finance restrictions to be sent back from whence they came.  Let's legalize what's already happening: take money from anyone, just be honest about it.  Transparency is the first principle of good government; far more by accident than by design, Obama is moving us in the direction we need to go by plainly demonstrating the utter bankruptcy of today's system.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Politics.
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