As Barack Obama reaped a stunning $150 million in campaign donations in September, bringing his total to more than $600 million, new questions have arisen about the source of his amazing funding.
By Obama’s own admission, more than half of his contributions have come from small donors giving $200 or less. But unlike John McCain’s campaign, Obama won’t release the names of these donors.
A Newsmax canvass of disclosed Obama campaign donors shows worrisome anomalies, including outright violations of federal election laws.
For example, Obama has numerous donors who have contributed well over the $4,600 federal election limit.
Many of these donors have never been contacted by the Obama campaign to refund the excess amounts to them.
And more than 37,000 Obama donations appear to be conversions of foreign currency.
According to a Newsmax analysis of the Obama campaign data before the latest figures were released, potential foreign currency donations could range anywhere from $12.8 million to a stunning $63 million in all. With the addition of $150 million raised in September, this amount could be much more.
When asked by Newsmax about excess contributions, Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said that contributions already identified as excess had been returned and that those the campaign was just learning about -- either through news accounts or from the Federal Election Commission -- “will be returned.”
“Every campaign faces the challenge of screening and reviewing its contributions,” LaBolt said. “And we have been aggressive about taking every available step to make sure our contributions are appropriate, updating our systems when necessary.”
But many of the donors Newsmax canvassed said they had “never” been contacted by the Obama campaign or seen any refunds, even though their contributions went over the limit months ago.
In all, Newsmax found more than 2,000 donors who had contributed in excess of the $4,600 limit for individuals per election cycle.
Such donations, if not returned within 60 days, are a clear violation of federal campaign finance laws.
Lisa Handley, a stay-at-home mom from Portland, Ore., recalled giving $4,600 to the Obama campaign by credit card, contributions she made because “I love Obama,” she said.
According to FEC records, however, she gave an additional $2,300 to the campaign, putting her over the limit.
The Obama campaign reported that it had “redesignated” the excess money, which could mean that it had contributed it to a separate party committee or a joint fundraising committee, which have higher limits.
But if that happened, it’s news to Handley. “No one ever contacted me to return any of the money or told me they were redesignating some of the money,” she said.
Ronald J. Sharpe Jr., a retired teacher from Rockledge, Fla., appears in the Obama campaign reports as having given a whopping $13,800.
The campaign reported that it returned $4,600 to him, making his net contribution of $9,200 still way over the legal limit.
But there’s one problem with the Obama data: Sharpe doesn’t remember giving that much money to the Obama campaign in the first place, nor does he recall anyone from the campaign ever contacting him to return money.
“At the end, I was making monthly payments,” he told Newsmax. The Obama campaign records do not show any such payments.
Many donors refused to answer questions about the political campaign contributions appearing in their name when they learned that the caller was from a news organization.
John Atkinson, an insurance agent in Burr Ridge, Ill., refused to discuss his contributions, which totaled $8,724.26, before numerous refunds.
Atkinson and others gave in odd amounts: $188.67, $1,542.06, $876.09, $388.67, $282.20, $195.66, $118.15, and one rounded contribution of $2,300.
Sandra Daneshinia, a self-employed caregiver from Los Angeles, made 36 separate contributions, totaling $7,051.12, according to FEC records. Thirteen of them were eventually refunded.
In a bizarre coincidence, those 13 refunded contributions -- for varying amounts such as $223.88 and $201.44 -- added up exactly to $2,300, the amount an individual may give per federal election.
Also giving in odd amounts was Robert Porter, an accountant for the town of Oviedo, Fla. Porter gave a surprising $4,786.02 to the Obama campaign.
In all, Newsmax found an astonishing 37,265 unique donors to the Obama campaign whose contributions were not rounded up to dollar amounts. That amounts to more than 10 percent of the total number of unique donors whose names have been disclosed by the Obama campaign to the public.
Of those, 44,410 contributions came in unrounded amounts of less than $100. FEC regulations only require that campaigns disclose the names of donors who have given a total of $200 or more, so that means that all these contributors were repeat donors.
Another 15,269 contributions gave in unrounded amounts between $101 and $999, while 704 of the unrounded contributions were in amounts of more than $1,000.
Campaign finance experts find the frequent appearance of unrounded contributions suspicious, since contributors almost invariably give in whole dollar amounts.
One expert in campaign finance irregularities offers a possible explanation.
“Of course this is odd. They are obviously converting from local currency to U.S. dollars,” said Ken Boehm, the chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center.
“The overwhelming number of large dollar contributors -- and even small donors -- are in even dollar amounts,” he told Newsmax. “Anyone who doubts that can go to FEC.gov and look through the campaign contribution data bases. You will not find many uneven numbers.”
Boehm said he had rarely seen unrounded contributions in his 30 years as a lawyer doing campaign finance work.
“There’s always the odd cat who wants to round up his checkbook, but they are very rare,” he said.
Richard E. Hug, a veteran Republican fundraiser in Maryland who who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and spearheaded the successful 2002 gubernatorial race for Bob Ehrlich that brought in a record $10 million, told Newsmax that unrounded contributions were extremely unusual.
“I’ve never seen this in all my years of raising money for political candidates,” he said. “The first thing it suggests is foreign currency transactions -- contributions from foreign donors, which is clearly illegal.”
Top Republican fundraiser Steve Gordon, who has raised $65 million for GOP candidates over the past 30 years, told Newsmax that such contributions in uneven amounts would be “pretty unusual.”
“You might have a rounding process if there was some kind of joint event, but since all appears to be on the Internet, it’s pretty unusual. At the very least, it would need to be explored.”
LaBolt attributed the uneven amounts to the online “Obama store,” which sells T-shirts and other campaign items.
“Contributions made to the Obama store often produce totals that are not exact dollar amounts,” he said.
But the campaign has never produced any accounting for proceeds from its online store, which virtually shut down several weeks ago after Newsmax and news organizations revealed that Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and other foreigners had made large purchases there.
The Republican National Committee has filed a complaint against the Obama campaign for “accepting prohibited contributions from foreign nationals and excessive contributions from individuals,” which incorporated reporting from Newsmax and other news organizations.
“Their responses to FEC inquiries have often been inadequate and late,” RNC general counsel Sean Cairncross told Newsmax.
The Obama camp claims to have 2.5 million donors in all. But until now, they have kept secret the names of the overwhelming majority of these money-givers. According to a Newsmax analysis, the Obama campaign finance records contain just 370,448 unique names.
Even accounting for common names such as Robert Taylor or Michael Brown, which can signify multiple donors, Obama’s publicly known donor base is less than 20 percent of the total number of donors the campaign claims to have attracted. But the identity of the other 2 million donors is being kept secret.
As of the end of August, those secret donors have given an incredible $222.7 million to Obama, according to the FEC -- money whose origin remains unknown to anyone other than Obama’s finance team, who won’t take calls from the press.
While no exact figures are available, if the same percentage of potential foreign contributions found in the itemized contribution data is applied to the total $426.9 million the Obama camp says it has taken in from individuals, this could mean that Obama is financing his presidential campaign with anywhere from $13 million to a whopping $63 million from overseas credit cards or foreign currency purchases.
The sum of all unrounded contributions in the itemized FEC filings for the Obama campaigns comes to $6,437,066.07. That is the actual amount of money that appears to have been charged to foreign credit cards that the Obama campaign has disclosed.
If the same ratio applies to the unitemized contributions, which are again as large, then the Obama campaign may have taken as much as $13 million from foreign donors.
However, the donors who made those unrounded contributions gave a total of $31,484,584.27, meaning that as much as $63 million may have come from questionable sources.
Both presidential campaigns are required to submit detailed fundraising reports for September on Monday.
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