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EXCLUSIVE: Investigation finds evidence of political contribution laundering in Raleigh
Two local residents confirmed that they had not given anywhere close to the amounts attributed to them in FEC records
Investigation found and verified two residents in Raleigh whose names and addresses were fraudulently placed on FEC contributions records
Crowd-sourced investigation into the Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue has found examples of these “zombie donors” across the nation
Earlier this year, after seeing a viral video by O’Keefe Media Group on fraudulent political contributions laundered via the ActBlue platform up in Maryland, I was inspired to verify the story by looking into potential victims of what I consider “political contribution identity theft” in my own backyard. The results: out of the six donors we were able to speak with, two confirmed that the amount of political contributions attributed to them via Federal Election Commission (FEC) records was far higher than the amount they had actually contributed in the two year 2021-2022 period. In addition, we discovered two donors who had not lived at the listed address in FEC records for their contributions.
ActBlue is an online fundraising platform for Democratic candidates and organizations, which touts its use by “strong grassroots fundraising programs”, and claims over $12 billion raised since 2004. ActBlue is required to report the political contributions they are processing to the FEC including the name, address, amount, and date that a contribution is made.
The results of these investigations suggest that the ActBlue fundraising platform is being used to launder fraudulent political donations using the names and addresses of ordinary citizens. If the individual whose name and address is on a contribution did not in fact make the contribution, it seems likely that the money is coming from a source which would not be legally able to make the contribution directly.
It is not clear at this point where the fraudulently reported funds are coming from, or whether ActBlue itself participated in laundering the contributions. In response to a letter by Senator Marco Rubio urging investigation, the FEC reportedly stated that it “does not impose requirements for specific safety or security guardrails that political committees must use to accept online donations”.
Rubio, as well as fellow Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz have proposed bills in their respective chambers of Congress which would require stricter authentication requirements for online political contributions.
For this investigation, we knocked on 33 doors in the Raleigh-Durham/Triangle area of North Carolina to investigate these potential ActBlue "zombie donors". After gathering a list of ~60 donors by frequency and amount of ActBlue donations, we obtained the dataset for each donor by searching the FEC data from the two year 2021-2022 period for the donor’s name and city.
I analyzed the addresses in each donor data set to ensure we were not combining the donations of two (or more) separate donors (this was done manually, since alternate arrangement/mispellings of the same address for an individual donor was common).
Out of the 6 donors we spoke with, 2 confirmed that the total of donations from the data set analyzed was higher than they had actually given, while 4 indicated that the total was correct, or at least plausible. In addition, at 2 addresses we spoke to residents who confirmed that the donor did not live at the listed address for at least part of the time period that donations were reported to the FEC for that donor/address in the 2021-2022 period.
Interview Date: 4/20/2023
2021-2022 Reported Contribution Total: $26,204.07
2021-2022 Reported Contribution Count: 1905
A.D. spoke with us for ~20 minutes. A.D., a former Democratic fundraiser, told us he wished he could have given the reported amount to Democratic causes, but it would have been far outside of his means.
“I do make election contributions, in fact, I spent probably ten years doing nothing but raising money, political, for the Democratic Party. That is what I did at all different levels. So I'm very familiar with it.”
“I mean, to be perfectly frank with you, I'm retired and on limited income. There was absolutely no way I could afford to make those type of contributions.”
“No, I did not do $26,000...I mean, there is no freakin' way. I wish I could, now there are times that I have actually contributed money that I knew I shouldn't contribute in small amounts, like $15 or $20, just because I wanted to contribute something, but I am not a mega donor under any concern. I mean, someone who is contributing that kind of money, $26,000 dollars...hell, I don't even make, if you double that, I don't make that much money.”
Interview conducted with A.D. at his residence (4/20/23)
Interview Date: 4/20/2023
2021-2022 Reported Contribution Total: $22,422.08
2021-2022 Reported Contribution Count: 1560
We had a much shorter conversation with A.B., but she was able to confirm that the $22,422.08 attributed to her in the FEC records for this period was far higher than her true contribution level. A.B. told us that when she did give money, she preferred to give her money to charitable causes.
City: Chapel Hill
Interview Date: 5/8/2023
2021-2022 Reported Contribution Total: $12,690.58
2021-2022 Reported Contribution Count: 1200
The current resident at the address reported that she had been living at her residence for three years, and that no one by A.M.’s name had lived there during the 2021-2022 period. The resident also confirmed that she had not made the contributions in question.
Interview Date: 5/25/2023
2021-2022 Reported Contribution Total: $5,566.10
2021-2022 Reported Contribution Count: 721
The current resident told us that R.K. used to live at the address, but the resident had bought the house from R.K. back in July, 2021. The donations attributed to R.K. at the address continued until March, 2022.
This style of investigation can only go so far: although a particular individual can state that the contributions are attributed to them are not correct, it would likely require an audit of the organization receiving or processing the money to determine the true source of the funding.
It’s also difficult to infer the total amount of laundering which may be going on, given the verified examples found. After all, it would be much harder (if not impossible) to identify and verify a fraudulent donation of $10,000 if it was laundered across a hundred different donors, instead of just one or two.