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Obama Campaign Runs Afoul of Finance Rules

Wednesday, 08 Oct 2008 08:25 PM

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A Newsmax investigation of Barack Obama's presidential campaign finance reports has turned up more than 2,000 cases in which individuals have made donations far above the legal limit of $2,300 per election. Such donations, if not returned within 60 days, violate federal campaign finance laws. Some can be chalked up to common names, such as Michael Brown, William Taylor, or James Smith. But many others cannot. On Aug. 31, for example, the Obama campaign filed a report listing a single donation from a Debra Myers in "Rancho Palos Verde, Calif.," for $28,500 – more than 10 times the amount the law allows per election. Although Debra Myers is identified as a physician, only two individuals with that last name have a listed phone number in Rancho Palos Verdes (the city’s name actually does have an "s" at the end). Neither is a Debra or a "D" Myers, or a physician. The Obama campaign also identified Woodrow Myers Jr. of Indianapolis, Ind., on Aug. 31 as having given $28,500 to the campaign. Woodrow "Woody" Myers is a former Indiana state health commissioner who spent $2.1 million of his own money in a failed special election to challenge Andre Carson, the grandson of U.S. Rep. Julia Carson, who died in December. The younger Carson won the race this year, with heavy backing from lobbyists, the Democratic Party and related PACs. (Interestingly, Woodrow Myers' wife is identified as Debra, although Newsmax could not confirm whether this is the same Debra Myers the campaign report lists as being from Palos Verdes.) In an initial reply to Newsmax questions, the Obama campaign said it had refunded both contributions on Sept. 30, a day after a Newsmax investigation was published that revealed extensive federal election campaign violations by the campaign. [Read "Secret, Foreign Money Floods Into Obama Campaign" — Go Here Now]. The Republican National Committee cited that earlier Newsmax investigation in a formal complaint against the Obama campaign with the Federal Election Commission on Monday. Several hours later, Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt e-mailed Newsmax to say that the contributions had been "reattributed" to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee, and that the excess had been refunded. That still put both Debra Myers and Woodrow Myers over the federal limits – unless the Obama campaign refunded their entire checks, since Debra gave another $28,500 earlier in the year to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Woodrow was way over the $108,2000 overall election cycle limit for individuals. Individuals can give $2,300 to a federal candidate in both the primary and the general election, for a total of $4,600 in a single election cycle. They also can give $28,500 to a national party committee, $10,000 to a state or local committee, and $5,000 to other political committees. If a candidate loses the primary, any money counted toward the general election must be refunded, a wrinkle in the federal election laws that can sink losing candidates deep in debt. In exchange for receiving federal funding, the McCain campaign agreed not to take any money from individual donors for the general election, so its donors are limited to $2,300. In addition to Debra Myers and Woodrow Meyers, hundreds of other individual donors have given to the Obama campaign far in excess of the legal limit, a Newsmax analysis of campaign finance records shows. Among them:
  • James Sievers of Big Sky, Mont., gave a total of $20,700 to the campaign, in five donations between March and June of this year. The campaign has returned close to $7,000 of the money but has kept the rest.
  • Martin Dies of Austin, Texas, also gave $20,700 to the campaign, in four separate checks, each dated June 30, 2007. The campaign returned $2,300 of it immediately, and another $4,600 in September, but kept $13,800 – three times the legal limit.
  • Robert Watt of Brooklyn, N.Y., gave close to $17,000 to the campaign starting in February of this year, including a whopping $10,000 check logged by the campaign on Aug. 31. Despite the obvious violation of the campaign limits, FEC records show that the campaign returned just $2,300.
  • Ryan Finley of Portland, Ore., has given $15,400 to Obama for America, starting with two checks on March 6, 2007, totaling $6,900. The campaign immediately returned $2,300, bringing him within the legal limit. He gave another $8,500 in a lump sum on Aug. 26, 2008.
  • Ms. Merry T. O'Donnell of Juno Beach, Fla., has given $13,150 to the Obama campaign, starting with three donations in March 2007 that totaled $2,000. In January 2008, she gave two more donations of $1,000 each, as well as donations for $600 and for $2,000. In February, she gave another $4,600. As of the latest filing, the campaign has refunded just $2,300 of the total, leaving her net donations at over two times the legal limit for the two elections.
  • Jerry Rubin of Whitefish Bay, Wis., has given $12,700 to the Obama campaign in varying amounts since February 2007. Despite the obvious violation, the campaign has refunded just $3,400 of that total, still putting him at double the legal limit. These are just a sampling of the 2,087 individuals who have given Obama more than the $4,600 combined total for the primaries and the general election. Donors with common names but who live in different parts of the country are among these 2,087 names. For example, the top individual contributor is Michael Brown, listed as giving $36,706 to the campaign. But a closer look turns up what appear to be 46 different people sharing the same name, each giving addresses in different cities around the United States. Newsmax has screened donors appearing in the FEC database to weed out those with similar names and different addresses. For example, in the examples listed in this article, we have eliminated any donations from individuals with the same name who are listed as having a different address. The FEC regularly sends letters to the Obama campaign, questioning contributions that appear to go over the legal limits. In many cases, the Obama campaign has amended its reports as a result. But the examples cited here have not been amended. "It is illegal to make contributions in excess of the limits, and it is illegal to receive contributions in excess of the limits," FEC spokesman Bob Biersack told Newsmax. So both the donors and the campaign may have broken the law. "But there are lots of circumstances, and until the four commissioners have agreed to rule, it’s hard to judge," he said. Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told Newsmax that the McCain campaign also has caught excess donations and has "refunded $1.2 million in contributions." Sean Cairncross, the general counsel for the Republican National Committee who filed the complaint with the FEC on Monday, told Newsmax that the McCain campaign has been "completely transparent with respect to its contributions" by making the names of all donors available to the public in a searchable database. The McCain campaign has even disclosed donors of $200 or less, though it is not required to do so. The Obama camp has not disclosed those donors. "The Obama campaign has steadfastly refused to make that information public," he said. Referring specifically to the huge amount of money that the Obama campaign claims it has raised from small donors, Cairncross said the identity and nationality of those donors could very well remain secret until well after the election unless the Obama campaign makes their names public. "The American people deserve to know where $250 million in contributions — money that could potentially elect a president — is coming from," he said. "And at this point, we have no way of knowing." [Read "Secret, Foreign Money Floods Into Obama Campaign" — Go Here Now].
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