Legal query

Are all the wingnuts making fake donations on the Obama website committing Federal felonies?

<strong>Update No, despite what Megan McArdle and Glenn Reynolds say, the post below doesn’t mention prosecution. Read it carefully. I do think that it would be nice if people were less boastful about activities that violate the law, even in what they think is a good cause. But I don’t think that people should go to jail for acting like jerks.

If a wingnut uses the Internet to give the Obama campaign a donation in a fake name, with the intent of fooling the website into accepting an invalid contribution, isn’t that using interstate communications facilities to defraud under 18 USC 1343? [Probably not. Second Update below.]

Here’s part of the definition of “fraud” from Black’s Law Dictionary:

a false representation of a matter of fact, whether by words or by conduct, by false or misleading allegations, or by concealment of that which should have been disclosed, which deceives and is intended to deceive another so that he shall act upon it to his legal injury

Seems like a pretty good fit to me.

Update Yes, says a lawyer-reader. Not just wire fraud, but a criminal violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act, which forbids making a contribution in the name of someone else.

Second update My friend the law student disagrees with the lawyer-reader cited above; apparently the statute specifies minimum dollar amounts. In addition, my friend the criminal appellate lawyer tells me that the wire fraud statute probably doesn’t apply, since the courts have interpreted it as requiring the intention to trick someone out of money or property; he suggests that some of the more recent computer-crimes statutes might apply. But it’s possible that I was wrong in my legal conjecture (not having the appropriate union card, I don’t claim to be an expert). Thus the title of this post.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com