August 12, 2008— -- There's more money reaching presidential campaign coffers from Americans overseas this election cycle than any previous one but some campaign finance experts warn it may be impossible to ensure no foreigners are donating to the election funds. While both campaigns say they rigorously vet donations, experts say that the large number of donations, particularly those through the Internet, opens the doors for fraud.
"This is obviously a concern," said Larry Noble, a former FEC general counsel. "There is a limit, frankly, to what they [the campaigns] can do."
Already, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama has received $2.8 million in money donated from Americans abroad, in U.S. territories or military bases – more than what both President Bush and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) raised combined during the 2004 presidential cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records through June, the most recently available.
John McCain has brought in about $380,000, through the same period, the records show.
Although the amount of money raised from abroad is small compared with the candidates' overall war chests, both presidential hopefuls have returned money to individuals who were foreigners.
The McCain campaign recently sent back a $2,000 donation from a donor who an internal investigation revealed was a foreigner.
And the Obama camp returned more than $33,000 in money given to the campaign between Sept. 20 and Dec. 6 last year from three Palestinian brothers living in Gaza, none of whom was a U.S. citizen. The three had made 97 attempts to purchase Obama merchandise from the online store. Only 32 were successful but the failed attempts raised a red flag in the campaign system.
The donations had initially slipped through the system because the three had listed their state of residence as "GA", the common abbreviation for Georgia. The Obama campaign returned final $2,500 of that donation last week.
But both campaigns say they haven't found large numbers of foreigners giving to the candidates and say they have adequate protections to ferret out problematic donors.