The "Most Corrupt Election" in Years?

In a post below, Jim Lindgren remarks that this year's election has "easily been the most corrupt election in my lifetime." This seems a bit much to me. There have certainly been many election irregularities — indeed, I've posted quite a few items that may raise eyebrows — but I don't think there is much basis for saying that this election is the "most corrupt" since 1952 (the year Jim was born). Further, from what I've seen thus far, it does not look like corrupt election practices actually affected the outcome in any national races.

One reason that election corruption may appear to be on the rise is that cases of voter registration fraud, election irregularities, and the like may receive more press attention. The internet and 24-hour news cycle can catapult stories about local electoral mischief onto the national stage. Add to that the fact that partisans on either side highlight events that cast their political opponents in a negative light, even if the actual facts are rather insignificant. So it might appear to some that there is more bad stuff going on, but I haven't seen any solid evidence that this is in fact the case.


More on "the Most Corrupt Election": I just wanted to add a quick note agreeing with Jonathan and disagreeing with Jim about the amount of corruption in the 2008 election. We've seen a dramatic shift this cycle in the amount of media and party interest in identifying cases of alleged corruption and on voting irregularities generally. Both the parties and the press were looking much more closely at this issue than they used to. (Just by way of example, I spent most of today in the basement of the RNC helping to staff the RNC Response Center that received calls from its nationwide phone number advertised to report possible irregularities; my understanding is that the RNC had never done such a thing before.) My sense is that the news reports reflect increased sensitivity to the issue more than anything else.

Response to Adler on Corruption.

I would like to join my fellow VC posters in congratulating Barack Obama on his historic victory. I have always thought him to be (as I described him before) "the most reasonable, thoughtful, moderate person on either national ticket." My problem is with his (statist) politics. But then, after the most socialist administration since LBJ or FDR (the second Bush administration), the statist trend is already somewhat entrenched.

Unfortunately, Jonathan Adler's disagreement with me in a post yesterday requires that I support my original claim, which would otherwise seem rather obvious. In return, I hope that Jonathan will try to support his.

Jonathan takes issue with this statement of mine in an earlier post:

It is ironic that in 2008 we probably have two of the most honest and decent men running for president that we have had in a long time, and yet this has easily been the most corrupt election in my lifetime.

To support this claim, I pointed to three things:

1. tens or hundreds of thousands of illegal voter registrations,

2. illegal campaign contributions, including illegal foreign contributions,

3. the press's performance.

I concluded by hoping that "the voting today is not so close that it was likely determined by voter fraud or tens of millions of dollars in illegal campaign contributions," a hope that was borne out by the substantial margin for President-elect Obama.

Jonathan disagrees with my conclusion, but the only arguments that he raises in response are that:

(1) "it does not look like corrupt election practices actually affected the outcome in any national races," and

(2) "it might appear to some [because of more press and internet coverage] that there is more bad stuff going on, but I haven't seen any solid evidence that this is in fact the case."

Jonathan's first point essentially agrees with my assertion in my original post, so that's not grounds for disagreeing. I would dispute Jonathan's second point quite vigorously and would ask him which year since 1952 was more corrupt and what arguments or evidence he has for such a claim. In some of the early elections (eg, 1952, 1956, and 1960), African-American voters were suppressed quite substantially by poll taxes and the like, but that is not the sort of "corruption" I was talking about. As I made clear, I pointed to the extent of phony registrations, illegal contributions, and press bias.

[In the comments to one of the earlier posts, a commenter helpfully points to the 1972 election, which had slipped my mind. Certainly, a reasonable case could be made for that one being (in very different ways) as corrupt or more corrupt than this one. Illegal foreign contributions were probably much less, and registration fraud and press bias were incomparably less, but it would be hard to top the dirty tricks in 1972 and some of the seemingly explicit quid pro quos for domestic contributions. So in 1972, things were in some senses much more corrupt and in some senses much less corrupt than in the 2008 election.]


In my post, I linked as evidence to John Fund's piece at Politico:

Anita MonCrief [is] an ACORN whistle-blower who worked for both it and its Project Vote registration affiliate from 2005 until early this year . . . . MonCrief, a 29-year old University of Alabama graduate who wanted to become part of the civil rights movement, worked as a strategic consultant for ACORN as well as a development associate with Project Vote and sat in on meetings with the national staffs of both groups. She has given me documents that back up many of her statements, including one that indicates that the goal of ACORN's New Mexico affiliate was that only 40 percent of its submitted registrations had to be valid.

MonCrief also told me that some ACORN affiliates had a conscious strategy of flooding voter registration offices with suspect last-minute forms in part to create confusion and chaos that would make it more likely suspect voters would be allowed to cast ballots by overworked officials. Nate Toller, who worked on ACORN registration drives and headed an ACORN campaign against Wal-Mart in California until 2006, agrees.

Here is a small sampling of the fraud that has been uncovered so far:

Indiana — More than 2,000 voter registration forms filed in northern Indiana's Lake County filled out by ACORN employees turned out to be bogus. Officials also stopped processing a stack of about 5,000 applications delivered just before the October 6 registration deadline after the first 2,100 turned out to be phony.

Connecticut — Officials are looking into a complaint alleging ACORN submitted fraudulent voter registration cards in Bridgeport. In one instance, an official said a card was filled out for a 7-year-old girl, whose age was listed as 27. 8,000 cards were submitted in Bridgeport.

Missouri — The Kansas City election board is reporting 100 duplicate applications and 280 with fake information. Acorn officials agreed that at least 4% of their registrations were bogus. Governor Matt Blunt condemned the attempts by ACORN to commit voter fraud.

Pennsylvania — Officials are investigating suspicious or incomplete registration forms submitted by ACORN. 252,595 voter registrations were submitted in Philadelphia. Remarkably, 57,435 were rejected — most of them submitted by ACORN. . . .

Texas — Of the 30,000 registration cards ACORN turned in, Harris County tax assessor Paul Bettencourt says just more than 20,000 are valid. And just look at some of the places ACORN was finding those voters. A church just next door is the address for around 150 people. More than 250 people claim a homeless outreach center as their home address. Some listed a county mental health facility as their home and one person even wrote down the Harris County jail at the sheriff's office. . . .

That's not all. So far this year at least 14 states have started investigations against ACORN. Talk about a culture of corruption. It is so bad that Representatives of Congress have asked for the Justice Department to investigate.

ACORN has registered over 1.3 million voters this year. If their GOAL is only to have 40% of them legitimate, then there probably are hundreds of thousands of illegal registrations. Indeed, just the short list above includes over 70,000 fraudulent registrations. Jonathan, I've never heard of national registration fraud on such a grand scale.

In Indianapolis, over 105% of adults eligible to register are registered. That's more registered voters than there are adults (national rates of registration are only 72%).

Jonathan, if you have any reason to think that any other election in my lifetime had a similar level of phony registrations, please explain the basis for your claim. Before ACORN, we never had a national organization that was set up to promote so much voter registration fraud, so I can't see how you would defend that claim. Organizations such as the League of Women Voters were never engaged in systematic registration fraud like this.


There are at least seven reasons to believe that illegal campaign contributions are more widespread in 2008 than in any election since at least 1952 [or perhaps 1972]:

1. Computer use is higher and online contributions are easier to make than they have ever been before. Just a few years ago, most contributions were made by check, which left a paper trail.

2. The incentive and desire by foreign nationals to contribute to Obama is higher than in any prior election. (Before this year, I don't remember any foreign public officials publicly admitting that foreign nationals were raising money for American presidential candidates.)

3. The Obama campaign disabled the normal credit card address verification feature on their website so that making illegal foreign and excess US donations was made much easier.

4. According to foreign newspaper and internet reports, the Obama campaign has repeatedly sent requests for money to foreign nationals who are prohibited from contributing.

5. There are many false names and occupations on the released lists of donors.

6. There are many suspicious patterns and amounts of donations just in the incomplete data that was reported.

7. The Obama campaign has refused to release the list of donors under $200 as the McCain has done.

Because illegal contributions are so much easier to make than ever before, it would be strange if there weren't more illegal contributions. Why wouldn't there be more illegal foreign contributions this year when the Obama campaign is the first to send frequent emails to foreign nationals asking for money? Jonathan, do you know of any reports that Kerry, Gore, or Bush did this in prior years?

There are many reports of illegal fundraising and illegal contributions. Here is just one summary:

Federal law does not require the campaigns to identify donors who give less than $200 during the election cycle. However, it does require that campaigns calculate running totals for each donor and report them once they go beyond the $200 mark. Surprisingly, the great majority of Obama donors never break the $200 threshold.

The FEC breakdown of the Obama campaign has identified a staggering $222.7 million as coming from contributions of $200 or less. Only $39.6 million of that amount comes from donors the Obama campaign has identified. . . .

It is the largest pool of unidentified money that has ever flooded into the U.S. election system, before or after the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reforms of 2002. . . .

"[CRP] and seven other watchdog groups asked both campaigns for more information on small donors," [Massie Ritsch] said. "The Obama campaign never responded," whereas the McCain campaign "makes all its donor information, including the small donors, available online."

The rise of the Internet as a campaign funding tool raises new questions about the adequacy of FEC requirements on disclosure. In pre-Internet fundraising, almost all political donations, even small ones, were made by bank check, leaving a paper trail and limiting the amount of fraud.

But credit cards used to make donations on the Internet have allowed for far more abuse. "While FEC practice is to do a post-election review of all presidential campaigns, given their sluggish metabolism, results can take three or four years," said Ken Boehm, the chairman of the conservative National Legal and Policy Center.

Already, the FEC has noted unusual patterns in Obama campaign donations among donors who have been disclosed because they have gone beyond the $200 minimum.

FEC and Mr. Doodad Pro

When FEC auditors have questions about contributions, they send letters to the campaign's finance committee requesting additional information, such as the complete address or employment status of the donor.

Many of the FEC letters that Newsmax reviewed instructed the Obama campaign to "redesignate" contributions in excess of the finance limits.

Under campaign finance laws, an individual can donate $2,300 to a candidate for federal office in both the primary and general election, for a total of $4,600. If a donor has topped the limit in the primary, the campaign can "redesignate" the contribution to the general election on its books.

In a letter dated June 25, 2008, the FEC asked the Obama campaign to verify a series of $25 donations from a contributor identified as "Will, Good" from Austin, Texas. Mr. Good Will listed his employer as "Loving" and his profession as "You." A Newsmax analysis of the 1.4 million individual contributions in the latest master file for the Obama campaign discovered 1,000 separate entries for Mr. Good Will, most of them for $25. In total, Mr. Good Will gave $17,375.

Following this and subsequent FEC requests, campaign records show that 330 contributions from Mr. Good Will were credited back to a credit card. But the most recent report, filed on Sept. 20, showed a net cumulative balance of $8,950, still well over the $4,600 limit.

There can be no doubt that the Obama campaign noticed these contributions, since Obama's Sept. 20 report specified that Good Will's cumulative contributions since the beginning of the campaign were $9,375. . . .

Similarly, a donor identified as "Pro, Doodad," from "Nando, NY," gave $19,500 in 786 separate donations, most of them for $25. For most of these donations, Mr. Doodad Pro listed his employer as "Loving" and his profession as "You," just as Good Will had done.

But in some of them, he didn't even go this far, apparently picking letters at random to fill in the blanks on the credit card donation form. In these cases, he said he was employed by "VCX" and that his profession was "VCVC." . . .

Just as with Mr. Good Will, there can be no doubt that the Obama campaign noticed the contributions, since its Sept. 20 report specified that Doodad's cumulative contributions since the beginning of the campaign were $10,965.

Foreign Donations

And then there are the overseas donations — at least, the ones that we know about. The FEC has compiled a separate database of potentially questionable overseas donations that contains more than 11,500 contributions totaling $33.8 million. . . .

More than 1,400 of the overseas entries clearly were U.S. diplomats or military personnel, who gave an APO address overseas. Their total contributions came to just $201,680 [out of $33.8 million]. . . .

Unlike McCain's or Sen. Hillary Clinton's online donation pages, the Obama site did not ask for proof of citizenship until just recently. Clinton's presidential campaign required U.S. citizens living abroad to actually fax a copy of their passport before a donation would be accepted.

With such lax vetting of foreign contributions, the Obama campaign may have indirectly contributed to questionable fundraising by foreigners. In July and August, the head of the Nigeria's stock market held a series of pro-Obama fundraisers in Lagos, Nigeria's largest city. The events attracted local Nigerian business owners.

At one event, a table for eight at one fundraising dinner went for $16,800. Nigerian press reports claimed sponsors raked in an estimated $900,000.

The sponsors said the fundraisers were held to help Nigerians attend the Democratic convention in Denver. But the Nigerian press expressed skepticism of that claim, and the Nigerian public anti-fraud commission is now investigating the matter.

Concerns about foreign fundraising have been raised by other anecdotal accounts of illegal activities.

In June, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi gave a public speech praising Obama, claiming foreign nationals were donating to his campaign.

"All the people in the Arab and Islamic world and in Africa applauded this man," the Libyan leader said. "They welcomed him and prayed for him and for his success, and they may have even been involved in legitimate contribution campaigns to enable him to win the American presidency..."

Though Gadhafi asserted that fundraising from Arab and African nations were "legitimate," the fact is that U.S. federal law bans any foreigner from donating to a U.S. election campaign.

The rise of the Internet and use of credit cards have made it easier for foreign nationals to donate to American campaigns, especially if they claim their donation is less than $200.

Gadhafi is not the only foreign official to talk about foreigners making donations. According to one internet account, a prominent Spanish official admitted on TV that he had donated to Obama's campaign.

More accounts of registration, voting, and contribution irregularities are here, here, here, here, here, and here.


In my original post, I gave three reasons why in my opinion 2008 was the most corrupt election in my lifetime (even if, as I expected, it probably didn't affect the outcome):

1. illegal voter registrations,

2. illegal campaign contributions, and

3. the press's performance.

I was quite specific about the three facets of this year's corruption.

I have supported the first two with arguments and evidence. Given the massive illegal voter registrations this year, I find it hard to see how Jonathan could disagree on my first point.

On my second point, I don't see how there couldn't be more illegal donations this year, given the switch from donations by check to donations by computer, the lax controls, and the frequent fundraising emails to foreign nationals. There is absolutely no reason to suppose that the greatly increased press reports of illegal donations are just the result of better reporting (as both Jonathan and Orin seem to imply).

The third type of corruption -- press bias — is so obvious and so widely recognized by the public and by many elites that I doubt that Jonathan would challenge me on that, so I won't waste his time on that point in an already very long post.

I gave three reasons why this election was the most corrupt since 1952 [or perhaps than 1972]. Jonathan, please indicate which election since 1952 was more corrupt than this one, and why? You never say (nor does Orin in his post).


Reply to Lindgren on "Most Corrupt Election":

This is just a quick reply to Jim Lindgren on whether the 2008 election was, as he claims, "easily . . . the most corrupt election" in his lifetime. Jim believes this is "obvious," but I am unpersuaded. Even assuming that every allegation Jim has cited is true, I still think he overstates his case.

For starters, it's a bit odd to call an election the "most corrupt" when there is no evidence that the corruption altered the outcome. Jim notes that there was fairly widespread voter registration fraud and illegal campaign contributions, but neither is anything new. I also find both to be less significant than the sorts of corruption and illegality we have seen in prior elections (ranging from the widespread disenfranchisement of African Americans to the "dirty tricks" of 1972, both of which Jim mentions). Jim also points to media bias, but I don't consider that "corruption."

We've had illegal campaign contributions before, and actual voter fraud (as may have occurred in Wisconsin in 2004). Tallying the alleged number of violations does not, in itself, settle the case. 100,000 faulty voter registrations woud be reason for concern, but still less significant than 1,000 fraudulent votes. Similarly with illegal campaign contributions, I am less concerned about frequent small contributions from foreign nationals than allegations of organized efforts by foreign governments or special interests to funnel large amounts of money, even if the dollar amount of the former is greater. Given there are credible allegations of actual vote fraud in prior elections -- and even allegations that vote fraud may have altered the outcome (as some believe occurred in 1960) -- pointing to widespread registration fraud without corresponding levels of vote fraud does not establish that the 2008 presidential election was the "most corrupt" in the past fifty-plus years.

In closing, let me note that Jim has made an extraordinary claim: that this election has been the most corrupt election in fifty years. In my book, such an extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence, and in this case I don't see it.