GOP, Dem Donors Misled By Look-Alike Websites

Look-alike sites siphon big money from real candidates, political parties.

September 21, 2012, 9:02 AM

Sept. 21, 2012 — -- For anyone who sent money to the website listed as, that money did not go to the Democrats.

Nor did any money sent to go to the Republicans.

An ABC News investigation found the websites, which feature official-looking graphics and photographs of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, are run out of a single-family home in South Hadley, Massachusetts by Donald Peltier, 50, a fuel truck delivery man by day and an apparent internet sleight-of-hand artist by night.

The results of the investigation will be seen tonight on "ABC World News with Diane Sawyer."

Peltier is listed as a registered Republican, according to election records, and a yard sign for the campaign of Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown is posted in Peltier's front yard, but both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee say his look-alike websites are not legitimate.

SEE the Real Republican National Committee and REAL Democratic National Committee Websites

Neither political party was aware of Peltier's sites, which seek campaign contributions, until contacted by ABC News.

"Our lawyers are going to take action, file legal proceedings and try to get this to be stopped immediately," said Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican National Committee.

A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee said its lawyers plan to refer the information uncovered by ABC News to the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Justice for possible prosecution.

"This website is in no way affiliated with the Democratic National Committee and donations to the site are not directed to the Democratic party and or Democratic causes," said spokeswoman Melanie Roussell.

In a brief telephone interview, Peltier told ABC News he legally owns the .org internet domain names of the two political parties and has done nothing wrong in keeping any money that is sent to the two sites.

Only in the small print on the site would donors be able to see the words, "not connected with any federal elections."

Peltier would not say how much money he has collected from donors, and called the police when an ABC News camera crew arrived outside his home.

"I don't want to talk to him, I don't want anything to do with him," Peltier told a police dispatcher on a 911 call he made, referring to ABC News correspondent Brian Ross.

In a report to be made public next week, the Government Accountability Institute, a conservative-leaning group, finds the increasing reliance on the internet to raise political money has created a host of issues related to possible fraud involving suspect websites.

The group's research discovered Peltier's look-alike sites were registered in 2002 and appear to have been activated in the past few years, undetected by the two political parties.

"Even sophisticated campaigns and federal authorities seem to be unaware of individuals that are misrepresenting themselves and soliciting funds while posing as political party organizations," says the GAI report.

The GAI researchers found Peltier was connected to dozens of websites, including some that appeared to be fundraising for President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"" is a slickly produced site that offers a "Free $100 VISA gift card to Florida residents" if they provide an email address and take a short survey on whether they approve of Obama's job performance.

Peltier's sites are two of dozens of other look-alike sites that are unconnected to the politicians and campaigns whose photographs are prominently displayed.

"It's an egregious abuse of donor trust," said Peter Pasi, a Republican consultant.

Pasi says most of the victims are donors who give smaller amounts of money in the range of $50 to $100.

"They're being scammed, duped, ripped off, whatever word you want to use, but the fact is they're not getting what they paid for," Pasi said.

As reported by Politico in April and in a follow-up investigation by the National Journal in September, CAPE PAC, came under fire after angry Republican donors discovered that the money they had contributed via websites that featured various candidates was actually going into CAPE PAC's coffers. Three-dozen websites featuring "Donate" buttons and candidate photos and issue pages attracted $570,000 from 3,000 donors.

CAPE PAC has now refunded an estimated $60,000 of the money to donors.

"It kind of makes you feel like you can't trust anybody anymore," said Richard Howlett, a retiree in Syracuse, New York who sent $250 to one of CAPE PAC's sites, thinking it was going directly to the Romney campaign.

"That's a lot of money for me and I'm angry it didn't go to my candidate," Howlett told ABC News.

The CAPE PAC chairman, Jeff Loyd, a local official in Arizona and former GOP county chairman, said his group uses contributions for "on-line education and turning out the vote for conservatives at the federal level."

"The money we raise is largely reinvested, almost immediately, back into our web campaigns," Loyd said in a statement, following publication of the National Journal report. Loyd also said that "our candidate websites, videos, and get-out-the-vote messages clearly state who we are and our mission," and that CAPE PAC immediately complies when a donor requests a refund.

"These instances have been few and far between," Loyd told the National Journal. "[We] are unaware of any issue that remains unresolved."

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