In computing, “swarm” designates a process carried out by a large number of decentralized small computing units each working on a tiny piece of a much larger problem. For example, the Folding@Home project uses the idle computational power of thousands of desktop computers to run computationally intensive simulations of protein folding.

More recently, the concept of swarm has expanded to describe any decentralized action enabled by peer-to-peer communications such as the Internet. For example, in swarm-journalism large numbers of people  independently decide to investigate the same event and independently publish their findings.

Recent revelations that the Obama campaign did not take elementary precautions to prevent illegal campaign donations over the internet raise the real possibility of a “corruption swarm” in which a large number of people independently carry out the same corrupt act. 

The beauty of swarm-corruption lies in its deniability. The Obama campaign did not have to launch a centrally coordinated effort to break the law, they needed to merely remove the standard safeguards that normally prevent such illegal acts. Obama could then just sit back and let corrupt donors figure out for themselves that they could break the law.

Swarm-corruption could be much more powerful than traditional corruption. A thousand donors, from all over the world, each donating $2,000, would raise $2,000,000. That’s a significant chunk of change even for an American presidential campaign. Further, unlike traditional corrupt donations that come in big and obvious chunks from specific individuals, the money from swarm-corruption comes from a vast number of sources, each of which requires independent investigation, and even if they do get caught, the small sums that each individual donated make the crime a minor one. It is easy to see that swarm-corruption could go to a much higher level — i.e., comprise a more significant percentage of a politician’s war chest — than traditional corruption.

This greater scale of corruption raises an interesting question: At what point do corrupt campaign donations invalidate an election? No campaign can guarantee that 100% of its donations are legal. A certain amount of error and fraud creeps into any system that collects from millions of sources. So, we have to tolerate low-single-digit percentages of a politician’s funding coming from illegal donations. On the opposite extreme it seems obvious that if 100% of a politician’s campaign donations came from corrupt sources then that level of corruption would invalidate the politician’s mandate to hold office. Somewhere between the two extremes lies a level of corruption that would invalidate a politician’s claim to office.

Where does that point lie? If 10% of Obama’s donations came from illegal sources would most Americas believe that invalidates his claim to office? Probably not. 20%? Unlikely. 30%? Maybe. 50%? Probably.

Even if the level of corruption falls below the threshold that triggers the outright rejection of the legitimacy of the election, high levels of swarm-corruption could seriously undermine a politician’s mandate.

Obama may find that he won the election battle but lost the political war. In any case, we must update our laws and procedures to prevent swarm-corruption from becoming a significant problem in the future. 

31 thoughts on “Swarm-Corruption”

  1. Does he care if he has a mandate? Isn’t power – and power alone – the goal of post-modernists? Shannon, this presupposes a belief in the base of a democracy and a certain ability to feel shame at the distance between what is being done and what should be done. I don’t think postmodernists care.

    Surely this adds up in a few people’s minds – though apparently not journalists’. Acorn & foreign donations, obfuscating an entire biography and clearing opponents’ names off Illinois ballot: connecting dots seems easy. That the majority haven’t means that the major training for connecting dots (a good liberal arts education)is a fraud; that fraud, of course, has been perpetuated by the departments on which Obama’s friend, Bill Ayers, has exerted significant influence. And “power does as power can do” is simplicity itself. It is also the ultimate trump card.

  2. Suppose that the CIO of an on-line retailer made a decision to disable the security checks for credit card purchases….and suppose that a large number of his friends were found to have taken advantage of this “feature” through fraudulent transactions.

    The guy would certainly be fired and sued, and probably prosecuted as well, even if he did not directly benefit financially.

  3. Ginny,

    Does he care if he has a mandate?

    It matters because the loss of mandate cripples a politician’s ability to enact policy. It rallies opposition and reduces the politician’s ability to make moral appeals. This is why the left harped so much on the Florida elections, diebold etc. They wanted to destroy Bush’s mandate.

    Obama still needs a mandate to affect our evolution into a socialist state. We’re still a few decades away from despotic rule.

  4. The left are the anointed ones.
    And, Obama is The One.
    The media will support him.
    All else are enemy of the people.

    Rinse, later, repeat.

  5. Shannon – I’ve been discussing a similar phenomena in voting for years, except that I have been calling it “distributed vote fraud” ever since the 2004 campaign. By a natural parallel, I have started calling this “distributed campaign finance fraud”.

    In each case, leaders can facilitate the fraud, as the Obama campaign has done this year with contributions, or as the Democrats did with votes in 1993 when they passed the “Motor Voter” act. (It was the first bill passed that year.)

    You are right that this kind of distributed fraud is much harder to control than the usual, centralized fraud. Leaders are almost always free from legal consequences, or even blame. And the individuals, as long as they aren’t too blatant, are unlikely to face jail time, or even fines. Look at the Ohio vote fraud house, if you want a recent example.

    (Those more up in current computer jargon can decide which phrase fits better.)

  6. “That’s a significant chunk of change even for an American presidential campaign” – Not really, especially when Obama has promised to give you a check for that amount next year. Let’s face it the illuminati party of Obama is buying this election and counting on ignorance to win.

  7. Suppose you have a pre-paid credit card with a $100 miilion balance that you want to donate to Obama. It is a very simple matter to write a program to make 4 million $25 donations over the period of a month. It is easy to have each donatiom made under a different name and address by simply using any on-line directory as a source (or better yet, as an inspiration). One can vary the size of the donations so they average $24.99. Obama has set up his fund raising programs to permit this kind of donation.

    All evidence indicates Obama has 3 or 4 donors in the $100 million plus class. We will know who they are when the time is right. They will congratulate themselves for exposing the corruption of capitalism. As Lenin said “A capitalist will sell you the rope you use to hang him”.

    And as Obama says, “They will freely vote for you”.

  8. Don’t worry, I’m sure Obama’s FEC will look into the problem right away.

    Now I’m off to feed my unicorns, dragons and griffins for tonight’s snipe hunt.

  9. You don’t need a mandate when your goal is deconstruction.

    Revolutionaries light the fire that consumes the establishment.

    Enjoy the fruits of utopia? Where’s the cool in that?


    History, much?

    Wednesday DOW below 7K with an Obama win.

  10. Of course, we could get rid of the stupid campaign laws that make this “corruption.”

    How about total transparency, with unlimited (but domestic) donations.

    The system could still be gamed, but gaming would be overwhelmed by legal donations.

  11. Early voting with same day registration/ballot casting does the same thing. An individual has time to travel to several different states, claim to be a new resident, register to vote, cast a ballot, and then move on to the next state and do the same thing. If one is allowed to cast a ballot only on election day, one is limited to voting in only as many places as they can physically visit in one day.

    Early voting combined with registration and same-day ballot casting is an invitation to corruption and voter fraud. States rarely compare notes. A person claiming to be a new resident from California moving to Arizona, Nevada, and Oregon will likely go uncaught. If any of those states checks with California, they won’t find out about the others. And the state where the potential voter is originating from (California in this case) probably doesn’t keep track of queries so they won’t notice that three other states also asked about the same individual.

  12. A pleasure to see Jim Miller commenting, above–I’d thought to link his essays on “Distributed vote fraud” as that phenomenon is so clearly analogous to the one discussed in the post.

    Actually, I’ll go ahead and link Miller’s Some Kinds Of Vote Fraud Are More Equal Than Other Kinds (11/17/04) and Facilitating Vote Fraud (10/31/04).

    An observation on anti-fraud protections for credit card charges. Clearinghouses (banks) offer measures like AVS for online merchants to use to cut down on the use of stolen cards, and the like. But at some level, a bank doesn’t really care one way or the other: if a charge proves to be bogus, the agreement between the bank and the merchant permits the bank to do a “chargeback.” In other words, it is the merchant who ends up paying for the mistaken payment that he or she originally accepted.

    Now consider somebody who wishes to donate an illegal $100,000 to the Obama campaign. With some combination of credit cards and cash cards in hand, he visits the website’s donation page and makes 503 donations of $199 (I’m unsure of the maxiumum per-donation amount that would work here, it appears to be under $200 but at least $49). With AVS disabled, any name and any address will do. Even with AVS enabled, it’s not that hard to foil the system.

    Once the campaign has accepted the funds and passed the charge onto the clearinghouse: end of story. There is no complaining party that will cry “thief!” After all, the point of the discussion is that the donor wanted to chip the $100K.

    AVS is designed to protect the merchant from chargebacks, not to spotlight transactions that an outsider might find suspicicous for some reason.

    It gets better. Some merchants (e.g. amazon.com) retain credit card numbers to facilitate future purchases. In the wake of well-publicized hacks into merchants’ database, an alternative strategy is for the merchant to not hold onto the number once the transaction is complete.

    Guess which approach the Obama campaign has adopted. When the Obama Justice Department gets around to investigating this matter, in July 2009 or so, what they’ll have to work with is a database containing Names, Addresses, and Amounts. Tell me again: which of those millions of transactions are you claiming are fraudulent, and how do you propose going about proving it?

    Pretty neat!

  13. If you wanted to donate serious money to the Obama campaign, you’d bulk-buy pre-paid credit cards worth $100 each. Load the numbers into a computer script, have it donate $100/second and fill out the form with randomly generated names and addresses.

  14. The above story underscores the frantic activity under that “calm, collected, and confident” nature of the Obama Campaign. Obama must win because, if he doesn’t, he’s likely f***ed. A McCain victory means an emboldened GOP will demand post-election campaign finance and vote registration investigations. If, or when, these happen, Obama, Axelrod, et. al. will be in deep fried s*** since we’ll learn that they, at the least, winked at these shenanigans or even flat-out authorized them.

  15. THis reminds me of a lesson that one of France’s journalists back at the turn of the previous century taught his people after the Dreyfus affair.

    It’s about the tyranny of the majority. When most people see things a certain way and you don’t, you’re at risk of arousing their anger at any time, in any number. You can lose job opportunities, be hounded by officials, beaten by thugs, anything at all can happen to you if the majority of people vehemently disagree with you on important matters. Nobody has to tell them what to do.

    It takes courage to face down a tyrant, but it takes much MORE courage (and we may need this kind very soon) to face down the majority of the people in your own culture and tell them they’re wrong.

  16. I’d like to see campaign donation laws changed in this way:

    1. Unlimited donations allowed by any CITIZEN. Only the first $1000 is tax deductible.

    2. Businesses/corporations are expressly forbidden from making any donations to an individual running for office. They are also forbidden from donating to PACs, etc. Businesses/corporations may be allowed to donate for specific ballot measures, etc. But this is left up to the individual states to decide.

    3. Foreign donations continue to be illegal. No exceptions.

    4. All donations, regardless of the amount, are public record.

    5. Journalists must state their donation information in each political article they write.

  17. The credit card processing company DOES know where the money came from and where it went. They are obligated to maintain detailed records so they can allocate the money to the right customers from the right cards.

    If Obama wins I expect February pardons of oodles of people, if he doesn’t win it gets interesting….

  18. It may sound kind of ugly but maybe we ought to make it where the only legal campaign contributions have to be made at designated places by the actual donor who will need some picture id to verify that they are who they say they are.

  19. If a corrupt campaign is successful at this level, who is going to make sure these proposed laws protecting the integrity of campaign finance are going to be put forward? Do we depend on the ability of the press to hold the administration’s feet to the fire on this to make sure something gets done? Do you think that sort of thing will really happen given the love affair we’ve seen between Obama and his MSM cheerleaders?

    I see that whenever a fundraising problem on the Democratic side the Dems shoot back with the “hey, everybody does it” defense, then produces anecdotal evidence, easily found, of a handful of irregularities on the Republican side. That’s enough to convince the press; it has been working pretty good that way for a while now.

  20. Let me be the first to call for “Doodah Poo” to be given the Democratic nomination for 2012!

    Since everything else; from the biography to the fundraising is fake; why not go all the way and have an imaginary candidate as well!

  21. is anyone really surprised that liberals (democrats) would cheat? c’mon, they’re LIBERALS! and they are so convinced they were robbed the last 2 presidential elections they feel perfectly justified (ends means and all that).

  22. I think that all this talk about campaign finance reform and investigation of Obama’s illegal fundraising activities is just whistling past the graveyard. Let’s say that it was possible to cut out entirely the Democrats’ illegal fundraising. Heckfire – let’s say Democrats cannot raise one thin dime and that all Democrat fundraisers wound up in the slammer. It would not make much of a dent in the Democrats’ massive money machine.

    As one sage put it, America has two major political parties: The Republican Party and the MSM. The Democrat Party is merely the political wing of the MSM and as such is utterly beholden to it. Now and again Democrat lawmakers may spar with MSM journalists, but this is purely an internal power squabble.

    Every election cycle the MSM pours hundreds of millions of dollars of free publicity into Democrat Party war chests in the form of slanted news stories, fraudulent investigative reports, biased “analysis” pieces, cover-ups of Democrat Party scandals, hagiographical coverage of Democrat candidates for office, and coordinated attacks on GOP candidates. When you chip in the effects of sitcoms and comedy shows that target GOP politicians far more than Democrats, it adds up to a propaganda behemoth that Joseph Goebbles could only dream of. And all of this is perfectly legal and utterly beyond the reach of campaign finance laws.

    After January 20, 2009 I predict that you will see the MSM/Democrat Party consolidate its gains by instituting ACORN-type voter registration as government policy. Once Democrats are safely beyond the reach of the ignorant, unwashed heathen rabble called voters, independent media will be next on the chopping block. If the courts get in the way, well – it is not hard at all to see a President Obama say about an unfavorable ruling, “The Court has made its decision – let the Court enforce it.” Plus I find it not a little bit frightening that the fate of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights may be in the hands of the likes of folks like Anthony Kennedy and John Paul Stevens.

  23. This suggests that Obama’s vaunted massive online donor base may be smaller, who knows by how much, than claimed. If you take out multiple donations, illegal donations, and fake names, who knows how many real, discrete voters there are in this group that is repeatedly described as 3.1 million small donors? This matters, not just because of fraud, but because this number is being used by some as a proxy for electoral support. Kind of like ACORN’s 1.3 million new voters, which turned out to be about 400,000 — assuming even that lesser number is real.

    This tactic of structuring the situation such that Obama can say he didn’t know was called “plausible deniability” in the Nixon days. Also popular with the Nixon White House was “that is no longer an operative statement,” which is perfect for those times when Obama “refines” his position (and insists that he hasn’t).

    We might also mention the new version of the enemies list, with the odd things that happen to people who oppose Obama, such as his electoral opponents whose “sealed” divorce records were somehow revealed in time to get them out of his way when he was running for US Senate (http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=MjlhNTNmZjk2YmI4N2Y0Y2M2YmI2ZTE4MWVlNDYxNWE=)or those who toss a pointed question his way (Joe the Plumber). Anyone remember Daniel Ellsberg and his psychiatric records? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Ellsberg#Fielding_break-in).

    But there won’t be any Watergate stories here, since pointedly questioning The One is divisive and distracting (according to Himself), something that should be “a federal crime” (according to the New Yorker) “spreading the poison” (according to Lanny Davis) and worst, racist, according to every Obama surrogate.

  24. Sam, but we’ll have a Dem majority Congress. Exactly who is going to impeach him?

    Impeachment is the least of what he deserves. I still have hope, though. Conservative hope and not that ridiculous marshmallow fluff dopey hope of Obama’s.

  25. Cynical Observer,

    This tactic of structuring the situation such that Obama can say he didn’t know was called “plausible deniability” in the Nixon days.

    Actually, I think the term originated with Col. Oliver North to describe covert activities but Nixon would have loved the term. Many have noted similarities between Nixon and the Clintons and certainly the Democrats evinces the same political paranoia that haunted Nixon.

    Even Nixon’s political corruption may not have been unique. A lot of historians have shown that Kennedy and Johnson used a lot of the tactics, such as having the IRS audit enemies, as did Nixon.

  26. “decades away?”

    How far was Czarist Russia from Kerensky’s government in 1916? And how far was Kerensky’s government from the Bolshevik Revolution?

    I don’t say what Obama will do. But here is what he could do.

    I think Obama is simply an opportunist, possibly a good leader, possibly terrible. OTOH Nancy and Harry strike me as natural born killers.

    The fabled balance of powers is nonsense. We are about to have a President who will be backed by a large Democrat majority in Congress. Pelosi and Reid seem willing, even eager, to do whatever Obama may ask.

    The Senate’s filibuster rule is only a procedural rule. It can be changed in an hour. Who could stop Senate Democrats from doing that?

    The Courts are, in the final analysis, powerless. Congress can impeach and remove any federal judge. Who says they have to be guilty of anything? Obama could obtain total control of the Supreme Court. Why not Michelle as Chief Justice, she went to Harvard Law?

    The President can remove any US Attorney. And if Congress agrees appoint new Directors of every security agency such as the FBI and CIA. Every person in the Justice Department can be fired. The federal reserve was created by legislation and can be neutered by legislation.

    The military is sworn to uphold the constitution. What they will actually uphold is the government established by the constitution. There would be only silence from the generals; usually not a bad idea anyway. Even pols run nations better than generals.

    In the final analysis an alliance of Congress and the President can do as it wishes. It looks like such an alliance will be stronger in 2009 than at anytime since the Civil War.

    So we will see what the Democrats wish.

    Soon we will see what they wish.

  27. The word is not, “swarm.”

    The word is, “conspiracy.”

    No reason to turn off the verification system and incur higher charges from the credit card issuer, unless you have told people they can give multiple times under multiple aliases, to evade the statutory reporting requirements and prohibitions on foreign contributions. But the occasional honest mistake will cost you more, but be swamped by the millions of planned evasions of reporting rules.

    If you don’t tell them, you’re just gonna leave it to chance that they’ll figure it out? That they (people who want to do this) even exist? Sure… that makes sense.

    And this was in place in the primaries and proven to work, and not uncovered when Obama decided not to accept public funding.

    The only way to track this would be back to the credit card numbers and the names and addresses they were issued to, but campaigns don’t report credit card numbers, and the names given were all bogus. I’m not even sure the Obama campaign broke the law, in a narrow sense, they DID ask people to give their names… the fact that the names are meaningless, notwithstanding. No, if there is a crime, it’s conspiracy to evade the intent of teh law, and that may be a hard one to make stick.

    If Obama wins, this election was stolen… the only grace note being McCain hoist on his own Campaign-finance-reform petard.

    If you doubt me, maybe you would be interested in buying this bridge that I own in NYC…

    Also, I think Tcobb may have the only way to “save” campaign finance limits—it’s hard to see any other way to have enforceable requirements.

  28. Marty,

    The word is, “conspiracy.”

    No, a swarm is the antithesis of a conspiracy. In a conspiracy, there is centralized coordination. In a swarm there is very little.

    If you don’t tell them, you’re just gonna leave it to chance that they’ll figure it out?

    Sure, why not? Remember, you’ve got tens of million of people observing the system. A small number figure out the hole and then they tell two friend who tell two friends…

    If Obama wins, this election was stolen…

    Depends on the level of corruption. Some level of corruption occurs in any election but we don’t seem to have a firm idea about what level of corruption would invalidate an election.

  29. K,

    The danger that Obama poises is not that he himself will become a dictator but rather that he will put systems in place, such as socialized medicine, card check, tax supported community organizers, etc that create the mechanisms that some future totalitarian will use to control the population. Read Hyek.

    We’re still some years away from that but the process is a long one. Right now, where something like German circa 1907.

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