Did the Obama Campaign Violate Lottery Laws?

Also, were the winners really picked at random? One winner was announced before the entry deadline!

WorldNetDaily reported recently that the Obama campaign was contacted by Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety with regard to a fundraising solicitation that could be construed as an illegal lottery. The E-mail, which we also received, seems to contain the three elements that constitute a lottery:

  1. Payment of consideration (a monetary donation)
  2. An element of chance
  3. A prize (all-expenses paid trip to the Democratic National Convention and a personal meeting with Barack Obama

While we are not attorneys and cannot give legal advice, this could well have been illegal until the Obama campaign, under pressure from Minnesota law enforcement, added a method of entering without payment of a donation. The changes the campaign made were at best cosmetic, perfunctory, and the minimum necessary to avoid actual trouble with law enforcement.

The E-mail in question was not, however, the first of its kind from the Obama campaign. We have on file two others, both of which seem to contain all the elements of a lottery that requires payment for a chance to win. Furthermore, the wording in the second suggests that not every entrant had an equal chance to win.

We will begin by citing some pages on sweepstakes laws.

Beware: Old Sweepstakes Laws Are Getting Renewed Attention!
By Jamie Rubin and Justine Young Gottshall of Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon LLP

A promotion runs afoul of lottery laws if prize, chance (winners are selected at random) and consideration (a purchase requirement) are present in the promotion. To avoid violating the lottery laws, a sponsor simply needs to remove one of those elements. Typically, the easiest element to eliminate is the purchase requirement and sponsors normally accomplish this by offering a free alternate method of entry to consumers.

The E-mail to which Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety took exception failed to do the latter. Only after Minnesota law enforcement complained to the Obama campaign did the campaign do the absolute minimum it had to do to avoid breaking the law. The E-mails we will cite below made no provision whatsoever for entry without payment of a donation.

Regulations Abound in Offering Online Sweepstakes
Los Angeles Business Journal, July 30, 2001 by David Halberstadter, Leon Liu

A sweepstakes is basically a game of chance that awards a prize to a winner or winners selected from a random drawing. However, the addition of the element of consideration — for example, a required purchase, the payment of a fee, or an expenditure of substantial effort by an entrant in order to enter — would make the contest a lottery, not a sweepstakes. Except for those that are state-run, lotteries are prohibited by federal law and the laws of all 50 states. Thus, all sweepstakes, including online sweepstakes, must avoid requiring any kind of payment, entry fee or other consideration to enter.

Now we will let the Obama campaign’s solicitations speak for themselves. Another question arises, by the way, as to whether the drawings were truly random or whether the Obama campaign selected people it thought would look good with the candidate. We phrase this as a question because we do not know, but were the drawings ever audited by an independent third party for random selection in which every donor had an equal chance to win?

From – Tue Jun 12 18:35:18 2007
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(Sun Java System Messaging Server 6.2-6.01 (built Apr 3 2006))
with ESMTP id <0JJJ00G0RK65HWV0@vms050.mailsrvcs.net> for
[our E-mail address]; Tue, 12 Jun 2007 16:10:55 -0500 (CDT)
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Date: Tue, 12 Jun 2007 17:10:53 -0400
From: “David Plouffe, BarackObama.com”
Subject: Video: Dinner invitation from Barack
X-Originating-IP: [207.234.208.131]
To: [our E-mail address]
Reply-to: info@barackobama.com
Message-id:
MIME-version: 1.0
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Join Barack Obama for dinner:

https://donate.barackobama.com/dinnerforfive

Dear Bill,

Ever received a dinner invitation on video?

Barack Obama has recorded a brief message for you — check it out here:

https://donate.barackobama.com/dinnerforfive

There’s still one day left to be a part of Barack’s Dinner for Five, and already this effort is proving exactly what kind movement we’re building together.

At a time when money from Washington lobbyists and special interests is polluting the political process more than ever, the question for campaigns isn’t just whether they can compete financially — it’s how they do it.

Thousands of people have given whatever they could afford — even $5 — to be part of something big.

If you make a donation in any amount by 11:59 pm EDT tomorrow, June 13, you could be one of four people chosen to dine with Barack. In about a month, you could sit down and share your reasons for joining this campaign and your ideas for how to keep the momentum building.

When you make that donation, you will become part of a movement of Americans ready to take back the political process and make our democracy work for the people again.

Join the movement and make your donation now:

https://donate.barackobama.com/dinnerforfive

Who knows, you could find yourself representing that movement one night soon — sitting across the table from Barack Obama.

Thank you,
David

David Plouffe
Campaign Manager
Obama for America

—-

Paid for by Obama for America

http://samspade.org/whois/207.234.208.131 shows that this IP address is indeed owned by Blue State Digital, which handles the Obama campaign’s Internet communications. In other words, some malicious third party didn’t send this out (revenge spam) to cause trouble for Obama, it came from the Obama campaign. Note the elements of a lottery: if you make a donation in any amount (consideration), you could be (element of chance) selected to have dinner with Barack Obama (prize). This solicitation did not provide any means of entry without payment of a donation “of any amount” (but not zero). Here is another, dated July 31 2007

From – Tue Jul 31 12:25:01 2007
X-UIDL: 8498-1156627068
X-Mozilla-Status: 1001
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(Sun Java System Messaging Server 6.2-6.01 (built Apr 3 2006))
with ESMTP id <0JM100JTOT7PEIU0@vms169131.mailsrvcs.net> for
[our E-mail address]; Tue, 31 Jul 2007 09:50:15 -0500 (CDT)
Received: by mta-inap3.bluestatedigital.com (Postfix, from userid 501)
id 4B67A4EDCB3; Tue, 31 Jul 2007 10:50:13 -0400 (EDT)
Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2007 10:50:13 -0400
From: Barack Obama
Subject: Dinner invitation
X-Originating-IP: [70.42.50.185]
To: [our E-mail address]
Reply-to: info@barackobama.com
Message-id: <6410a68c11e0cea969d3dd947ed112f6@localhost.localdomain>
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Make a donation by 11:59 pm tonight, Tuesday, July 31st, and you could join us for our second Dinner with Barack:

https://donate.barackobama.com/dinner

Dear Bill,

A couple of weeks ago I sat down to dinner with four supporters like you.

Christina, Haile, Margaret, and Michael each made a small online donation, and we flew them across the country for some good food and good conversation.

What I enjoyed most about this dinner was the opportunity to listen to the stories and concerns of ordinary Americans in a relaxed environment. Out on the campaign trail, there isn’t always time for that kind of interaction.

Last week we started planning our second dinner, and on Friday evening at 6:42 pm, a woman named Dorothy Unruh of Lakewood, Colorado made a donation.

I’m pleased to announce that Dorothy will be one of my guests for the second dinner. You could join us if you make a small donation before 11:59 pm tonight, July 31st:

https://donate.barackobama.com/dinner

Here’s what Dorothy told us about herself:

“I’m a senior citizen fed up with the current state of our government. I’m sad that our great nation has lost its stature in the eyes of the rest of the world. I have been a registered Republican for years, but recently officially changed parties so I can attend the Democratic caucus and help elect Senator Obama. He is like a breath of fresh air to my husband and me.”

Dorothy has never taken part in a political campaign before, but she and millions of other voters who want change are going to be the key to Democratic victories up and down the ballot next year.

I’m looking forward to having dinner with Dorothy, but there are still three seats left at the table. Will you be in one of them?

If you make a donation by 11:59 pm tonight, Tuesday, July 31st, you could join us for dinner very soon:

https://donate.barackobama.com/dinner

We’ll pay for your trip and the meal — all you need to bring is your story and your ideas about how to make this a better country for all Americans.

Small donations from ordinary Americans have set our campaign apart and allowed us to reject the influence of Washington lobbyists and special interest groups. Not only is your support the key to our success, it’s essential to reclaiming a government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people.

I hope you will make a donation now and participate in this opportunity. Take ownership of your part in this campaign and strengthen your role in our movement.

Together we can put an end to pay-for-influence politics. We can turn the page in Washington, and it all begins with you.

Thank you for your support.

Barack Obama

————————————————————————
Paid for by Obama for America

http://samspade.org/whois/70.42.50.185 also traces to Blue State Digital

Pay close attention to what this E-mail says. A woman named Dorothy was apparently selected as a winner before the entry deadline. This raises the question as not only whether this solicitation was a lottery that could be illegal in many jurisdictions, but also whether the winners were really picked at random. The latter is a question that everyone who donated money in response to these solicitations might want to ask.

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2 Responses to “Did the Obama Campaign Violate Lottery Laws?”

  1. Were Obama’s Lottery Winners Picked In Advance? « The Husaria Says:

    […] The Husaria For Our Freedom and Yours « Did the Obama Campaign Violate Lottery Laws? […]

  2. Were Obama’s Lottery Winners Picked In Advance? | Grizzly Groundswell Says:

    […] We previously reported that the Obama campaign has, on at least three occasions, conducted what are allegedly illegal lotteries. The E-mail and online solicitations included: […]

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