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October 08, 2012

Website "Obama.com" Redirects Visitors To Obama's Official Donation Page, Despite 68% of Its Visitors Being Overseas And Presumably Ineligible to Donate To An American Campaign

It appears Newsweek spiked the story.

Update & Bumped: Newsweek Has Published. Link & excerpts at article's end.

There's a lot to digest, but there are a few fairly damning revelations here. It's not really what I was expecting.

This raised an immediate eyebrow:

Obama.com was a “parked” page with a small Japanese company that sold website names. In the last week of September 2008, Obama.com changed hands and was registered to “Roche, Robert.” The administrative email was registered to a Teruhiko Tshida at a Japanese company with the website oaklawn.com.jp. Oaklawn Marketing is a Japanese infomercial company started by Robert Roche. Roche is an American citizen (originally from Chicago) who has spent the bulk of his time in Shanghai since the late 90s. He has considerable business interests in China involving China state run television.
Some more background on Roche:
In the early part of October 2010, the site registration was changed from “Roche, Robert” to an anonymous registration with a company called Domains By Proxy which is owned by GoDaddy. Server hosting was changed from Japan Global Media Online to Hostmonster/Bluehost. Almost immediately, Obama.com redirected to the donate page of the Obama campaign.
...
He [Roche] serves as co-chair of the Technology Initiative for the Obama campaign, an effort designed to raise money from, and with the assistance of, the Technology and Information industry. In the first quarter of 2012, Roche bundled $500,000 for the Obama campaign. He has also contributed $50,000 thus far to the pro-Obama “Superpac” Priorities USA. In 2008, he bundled $282,359 for Obama. In the wake of 2008, Roche was made a member of the U.S. Trade Advisory Board for China. He is also a past president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai.
There seems to be an abundance of smoke here.

There is some more evidence of foreign involvement here:

The report focuses on the website Obama.com, which used to be owned by a major Obama donation bundler. Type that site in and you are directed to the Obama donation site. The report said that 68 percent of the traffic to Obama.com comes from overseas.

It appears that "obama.com" routed a great many foreign visitors to Obama's donation pages. There is also evidence that the Obama campaign went out of their way to avoid using web-standard verification to confirm donations.

I think many are making too big a deal out of the CCV requirement, the real issue is the Address Verification System (AVS) which appears to have been set to an absurdly weak "match" setting on Obama's own campaign website. This should be what people are focusing on. The AVS system can be set to extremely strict settings, like say no typos. Or it can be very set to a very, ahem, liberal match setting, which appears to be the case here. The AVS system is also very tough on fraud because you actually have to match real address, not just punch some numbers in for "Mickey Mouse".

GAI also determined that the Obama re-election campaign has selected a particularly weak Address Verification System (AVS), a computerized means of comparing house numbers and ZIP codes provided by a donor with the corresponding numbers on file with a credit card issuer.
...
GAI notes that the Obama campaign’s failure to use such security measures in its online donation system likely costs it “millions of dollars in additional fees” because “card processors charge higher transaction fees for campaigns that fail to use the CVV.
The reason why this report is not what I was expecting, is that it stops here. Back when there were some whispers about this in May or June, I poked around Obama's site. What was odd was that there was verification for Obama's web store, but not to donate. Meaning, you had to verify your address if you wanted to buy a "Dogs for Obama" button, but not if you wanted to donate to his campaign. Most of us remember these types of shenanigans from Obama's 2008 campaign.

So, when this story began leaking last week, I went back and checked on this again. The weird part? The campaign donation page had been moved from "donate.barackobama.com" to "contribute.barackobama.com". After poking around a little more, I found that donate.barackobama is being hosted by Blue State Digital. This is a firm founded by former Howard Dean 2004 staffers and they run Obama's digital operation.

Meanwhile, barackobama.com and contribute.barackobama.com are hosted by a company called Akamai Technologies out of Cambridge, Mass. As best I can tell through various caching sites, this change from "donate" to "contribute" was made sometime in the last month. The question becomes why? My suspicion is that, as the Washington Examiner claims, the White House knew this report was coming out (they actually claim the White House was trying to block it) and they were trying to fix some of these issues.

Furthermore, donate.barackobama.com is not universally forwarded to contribute.barackobama.com. You can still see some examples of old pages here:

https://donate.barackobama.com/page/event/detail/gp2j9b

https://donate.barackobama.com/page/event/search_simple

https://donate.barackobama.com/page/event/create

https://donate.barackobama.com/page/contribute/o2012-August1RaleighReception

https://donate.barackobama.com/page/contribute/o2012-EastEndForObama

My best guess is they are running custom 301 redirect scripts through an htaccess file. They appear to have missed redirecting some of these older pages. You can even donate through this old site. Again, why? This is sloppy and leads me to believe this was a hastily-made change with only two months remaining in the campaign.

I'm still digging into this along with a few others to see what else we can find. If you notice something, shoot me a line on twitter.

More at the Daily Caller and and Breitbart.

Newsweek's Version [ace]: is now up.

They allowed themselves to be scooped -- why? Not sure. Maybe to bury it.

But now it's up.

But it isn’t just foreign donations that are a concern. So are fraudulent donations. In the age of digital contributions, fraudsters can deploy so-called robo-donations, computer programs that use false names to spew hundreds of donations a day in small increments, in order to evade reporting requirements. According to an October 2008 Washington Post article, Mary Biskup of Missouri appeared to give more than $170,000 in small donations to the 2008 Obama campaign. Yet Biskup said she never gave any money to the campaign. Some other contributor gave the donations using her name, without her knowledge. (The Obama campaign explained to the Post that it caught the donations and returned them.)

This makes it all the more surprising that the Obama campaign does not use a standard security tool, the card verification value (CVV) system—the three- or four-digit number often imprinted on the back of a credit card, whose purpose is to verify that the person executing the purchase (or, in this case, donation) physically possesses the card. The Romney campaign, by contrast, does use the CVV—as has almost every other candidate who has run for president in recent years, from Hillary Clinton in 2008 to Ron Paul this year. (The Obama campaign says it doesn’t use the CVV because it can be an inhibiting factor for some small donors.)

What? This is what they always claim, including with voter fraud-- that very basic efforts to determine valid votes or, here, valid donations, will "frighten" law-abiding citizens.

Why are law-abiding citizens afraid of a CCV check that is common in their lives? Did they never order Domino's pizza?

Interestingly, the Obama campaign’s online store requires the CVV to purchase items like hats or hoodies (the campaign points out that its merchandise vendor requires the tool).

Yes-- that's to prevent fraud. They don't want to send out merchandise and then have someone demand a refund due to his credit card being fraudulently used.

Obama has no problem with this scenario as far as donations, though!

What about all those Obama supporters who are "discouraged" from purchasing merchandise due to the CCV requirement? What about them?

We also focused on the Obama campaign because it is far more successful than Romney when it comes to small donors—which the Internet greatly helps to facilitate. In September the Obama campaign brought in its biggest fundraising haul—$181 million. Nearly all of that amount (98 percent) came from small donations, through 1.8 million transactions.

The Obama campaign says that it is rigorous in its self-regulation effort.

But not rigorous enough to add easy, automated, standard verification step in its accumulation of donations.






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