A prominent Democratic donor with ties to the Red Chinese government may be implicated in the Obama campaign’s flouting of federal campaign finance law, according to a bombshell investigative report.
The groundbreaking new study, authored by the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), highlights the "curious case" of Obama.com, a website previously, and possibly still, owned by Obama campaign bundler and frequent White House visitor Robert W. Roche.
The website—which is not one of the hundreds of different domain names owned by the Obama campaign—is examined at length in the report as a major potential gateway for illegal foreign donations to the campaign.
Visitors to the site, more than two-thirds of which are located outside the United States, are redirected to the Obama campaign’s main donation page at barackobama.com.
The GAI investigation found numerous links to Obama.com on foreign blog sites and forum boards, links that "increase the probability that foreign nationals will try to donate to the Obama campaign." Furthermore, the GAI discovered that search engine optimization (SEO) techniques were employed at some point in order to generate foreign traffic to Obama.com.
Federal election law prohibits campaigns from knowingly accepting or soliciting donations from foreign nationals.
The GAI report cited Obama.com’s existence and the unusually lax online security measures on the Obama campaign’s donation page as evidence the campaign may be breaking the law. At the very least, these two factors indicated the need for further investigation.
Roche, who has raised nearly $850,000 for Obama since 2007, registered the domain in September 2008. It is unclear if Roche still owns the site, however, as it switched to an anonymous registration in October 2010.
In October 2008, the site began redirecting its mostly foreign visitors to content on my.barackobama.com, the campaign’s social media platform that frequently solicits donation over email. The site employs no safeguards to ensure that potential donors are American citizens.
Following Obama’s victory in November 2008, Obama.com began redirecting visitors to a page selling inauguration merchandise and soliciting donations for the inauguration celebration. Roche personally donated $50,000, the maximum allowable amount.
He has contributed more than $375,000 to Democratic campaigns and committees since 2007,and at least $100,000 to the pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA, which notably ran an ad suggesting that Obama’s opponent Mitt Romney was responsible for a Missouri woman’s death from cancer.
At some point in 2012, the webpage began directing visitors to a donation page on the Obama campaign’s website.
The campaign website, meanwhile, is able to monitor traffic and donations coming from Obama.com using a unique tracking number.
The Obama campaign raised more than $500 million online in 2008, the vast majority of which came in amounts less than $200. Federal election law does not require campaigns to collect information about the individual making the donation at such a low level.
Investigation into the campaign’s online fundraising in 2008 uncovered thousands of examples of fraudulent donations from nonexistent people.
Additionally, the Obama campaign does not employ basic verification safeguards to weed out fraudulent online payments, even though doing so would save them millions of dollars in processing fees. As a result, the campaign is extremely susceptible to illegal activity.
Kenneth Sukhia, a Florida attorney retained by GAI to examine the legal implications of the report, argued that the findings raise serious questions about the Obama campaign’s motivations.
"There is reason to suspect that such decisions may be motivated by the belief that more money could be raised through foreign contributions than lost in added fees by declining security tools designed to stop them," Sukhia wrote.
Originally from Chicago, Roche has lived in China and Japan for the past 27 years. During that time, he has developed extensive ties with the communist Chinese government and many of the largest state-owned businesses in the country.
Roche co-founded Acorn International in 1998, and currently serves as chairman of the board. The Shanghai marketing firm specializes in infomercials.
Roche is represented by Haiwen and Partners, a politically connected law firm that also works for many of China’s largest state-owned companies, such as the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Coal Energy Company, and China Construction Bank.
He is a past chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce Shanghai Board of Governors, and a member of the Board of the Public Diplomacy Collaborative Initiative at Harvard.
Roche also has deep ties to the Obama administration.
In 2010, the president appointed him to the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations. Roche currently co-chairs the Obama campaign’s technology initiative, an effort designed to raise money via the technology and information industry.
White House visitor logs show that Roche, despite living in China, has made at least 19 visits to the executive mansion since 2009, which include at least one private meeting with the president in the Oval Office and several others with senior staff members.
Roche’s connections earned him a spot at the head table at the State Dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao in January 2011, along with the president and first lady, and other power couples such as the Clintons, Kerrys, and Carters.
"How Roche, a businessman running infomercials on Chinese State Television, ended up at the table is puzzling," notes the GAI report.
Roche, who hosted a fundraiser for Obama in Shanghai on July 11, could not be reached for an interview.
A representative for Acorn International did not return a request for comment.