Journalism in the Public Interest

Donations to Scott Walker Flagged as Potential Fraud

A woman in upstate New York is surprised to find a contribution to the Wisconsin governor’s campaign on her credit card.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks to the press outside his office in the capitol building on Feb. 25, 2011, in Madison, Wisc. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

May 25: This post has been updated and corrected.

When MaryAnn Nellis tried to pay for groceries on April 14, her credit card was declined. Later, she said, she found out why: Her credit card company, Capital One, had flagged an earlier purchase as potentially fraudulent. The problem? A $5 donation to Friends of Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor's campaign committee, Nellis said.

Nellis told a Capital One representative she had not made the donation to Walker, who is fighting an effort to recall him as governor in a closely watched, expensive election set for June 5.

"Over my dead body," said Nellis, a potter and retired teacher in upstate New York who describes herself as "adamantly angry and upset" at Republicans such as Walker. Nellis disputed the charge and she was issued a new card.

Though the amount of money was small, ProPublica decided Nellis' complaint was worth following up. There have been other reports recently about insecure campaign-donation websites and the potential for fraud. Earlier this month, The Washington Times reported that Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Republican Mitt Romney, was using a collection system that made online donors' credit card information accessible to even amateur snoopers.

At ProPublica's request, Nellis called Capital One and asked a representative about the $5 charge to Friends of Scott Walker.

"She told me that they watch for fraudulent merchants who will put through a bunch of charges that are not legitimate," Nellis said. "I said, 'The fraudulent merchant here was Friends of Scott Walker, right?' And she said, 'Yes.' They had a little flag on any Scott Walker activity."

As an experiment, a ProPublica employee also made a $5 donation to Friends of Scott Walker on her Capital One card on May 10. Almost immediately, Walker's campaign sent an email thanking her. Less than a minute after that, Capital One emailed a fraud protection alert, saying the company "noticed potentially suspicious activity" on her account and asking her to call fraud protection as soon as possible.

When she inquired, a Capital One representative said the donation wasn't in line with her spending pattern and "our fraud department had some potential fraud concerns on the account."

Another $5 donation, made to Walker's opponent on the Capital One card, was not flagged as potentially fraudulent. Neither was a $5 donation to Friends of Scott Walker made on an American Express card. (The employee is seeking refunds of all three donations.)

We called Friends of Scott Walker for an explanation, but no one would answer our questions.

Walker's campaign spokeswoman, Ciara Matthews, emailed ProPublica on May 10 under the subject line of "follow up."

"I received a message about the story you are doing," she wrote. "The campaign does not comment on internal matters."

"How about allegations of credit-card fraud?" we wrote back. "That's hardly internal, it's external."

Matthews did not reply.

Ultimately, all we can say at this point is that Capital One appears to be flagging donations to Friends of Scott Walker as potentially fraudulent.

If anyone out there has had similar issues with online donations to Walker or other political campaigns, please let us know via email or by commenting below.

Correction: This story originally identified eZcontribution, a Wisconsin company, as running the website handling donations to Friends of Scott Walker. In fact, there are several websites that handle donations to the campaign. EZcontribution says it has no record of processing a charge to Nellis’ credit card.

Update: Ciara Matthews, spokeswoman for Gov. Scott Walker's campaign, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Monday that the charges identified as potentially fraudulent were "a result of criminals attempting to use stolen credit card information data from sources other than the campaign." Matthews also said that the campaign constantly reviews its security procedures to ensure contributors are protected. No word on who the criminals were, whether charges are being pursued or what the campaign has done to improve the security of its online donations. A phone call and email to Matthews to clarify her statement were not returned.

Rusty Boersma

May 18, 2012, 12:30 p.m.

Sounds like Capital One knows that anyone who contributes to Scott Walker, is obviously not sane or able to make correct judgements. Kudos to Capital One!

You make it sound like he isn’t already being indirectly or directly associated with fraud, John. I imagine at least part of his John Doe investigation is focusing on fraud.

I have to wonder, did Nellis get a “thank you” email?

This is one way for friends of the Walker campaign to increase the number of “small donors.” They need something to counterbalance all those who donated $10,000 and up.

Carolyn LeBeauf

May 18, 2012, 2:01 p.m.

Is there nothing these republicans won’t do to win?  So corrupt. Pathetic.

alberta treadway

May 18, 2012, 2:10 p.m.

I am hoping this will be enough to get it on the evening news!? I think there is a lot of funny business going on down there in WI with Walker, why alse would he need 2 criminal Lawyers? Got to give the hand out to Capitol One for being on the ball with this.

He’s actually has four high profile criminal defense attorneys specializing in things like organized crime, white collar crime, and John Doe investigations.  One of his lawyers recently defended an ax murderer.  Can’t get classier than that.  He’s already spent $231,000 without any charges being filed yet.  But, there’s coming, sooner or later.  Scott Walker won’t be Governor of Wisconsin for long, whether he gets kicked out by the voters or hauled off in handcuffs.

Clark Baker (LAPD ret)

May 18, 2012, 2:29 p.m.

Because of the volume of donations, it’s hard to discern the difference between legitimate and illegitimate donations.

Fraudulent donations made with stolen credit cards (called “carding”) is a common tactic used by belligerents to discredit targets.  I know - I was a victim of the scam myself.

Based upon the facts (as reported) of this story, I suspect that Gov. Walker was similarly targeted.

The good news is that merchant services like PayPal offer filters that I’ve found are pretty effective in preventing it from occurring.  Card holders also have a duty to carefully review their statements.

Graeme, I’m actually not following his story, so you’re not too far off.  I’m mostly outlining the most probable situation based on how these things usually work.

You’re right that outright fraud is theoretically possible, of course, but I honestly don’t see the return-on-investment working out.  I mean, anybody selling a credit card for less than five bucks doesn’t have a lot of them.  So it’s high risk (every use is a point where you might get caught), high cost (you need to get access to each number, which costs time and money), and little reward (five bucks).

The only way I could see it working is if you had an enormous donation (enough that you could afford to lose most of it) and wanted to launder it quickly.  At that point, you could “hire” the numbers for what I’d guess to be a huge premium per charge to cover their risk of being caught.

I’m seeing it as more opportunistic.  They set up the system, notice the bad transactions coming through, but hey, money is money, and it smells like grass roots.  That theory has the additional advantage of explaining how Capital One figured it out.  Contributing to a campaign for a rotten politician is hardly a sign of fraud, whereas a pile of numbers being rejected in rapid succession is a huge red flag.

You liberals can’t stand Walker’s sucess in pulling WI out of the ditch.  This is just the beginning of a true revolution against the crooked labor union bosses who steal billions from the US economy. That’s my $5 and you can take it to the bank, Capital Bank if you wish.

“Friends of Scott Walker’s” TV ads are fraudulent, so why shouldn’t they be financed by fraudulent credit card charges? Seems only fair.

Doesn’t make sense that Walker would do this with the millions pouring in for his ads etc. - more likely he’s hired thieves that are doing this-his kind of people you know.

Yea,Wisconson is doing sooo good with the lowest rate of job increase in the USA and tons of negative numbers! Walker and his ilk rank right up there with Tsar Nicolas and the rest of the Tsarists who wanted nothing but serfs! The middle class make jobs by their buying power and if they stopped buying,the rich would be on the bread lines where they belong! The rich don’t create jobs,we do b y our buying power!

Skippy Flipowitz

May 18, 2012, 3:48 p.m.

“pulling WI out of the ditch????”  Stop eating paint chips, ya fool!

Now they are into stealing through the election, literally.

Richard Powers

May 18, 2012, 4:15 p.m.

Funny, I don’t recall ProPublica investigating any of the shenanigans involving the Obama campaign in 2008 with illegal donations coming in from all over the world.  Doodad Pro, anyone?  Or how about the untraceable Mastercard and Visa gift cards used for donations?  And yet, Obama is still using many of the same tech experts that he used in 2008, and is still accepting credit card donations made under incorrect names for 2012.

ProPublica, thy name is Hypocrite.

The comments suggest that the union thugs are pretty happy about the story - as I expected. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if they hired off-shore goons to make the payments and then waited for someone to complain.

The union goons are why I’ve donated to Walker’s campaign.  These unions had a place in society 80 years ago, but today with OSHA and federal protections, they’ve become an economic cancer - I know - I live in California.


May 18, 2012, 4:41 p.m.

I believe the idea behind this report is to create doubt in the minds of small contributors about using credit cards to make campaign contributions. The party that relies mostly on small contributions will be most adversely effected.

Jim Strathmeyer

May 18, 2012, 5:13 p.m.

Didn’t Ciara Matthews show their hand by pointing out that it’s an internal matter??

Angelina Seraphina

May 18, 2012, 5:29 p.m.

Spoken like a true authoritarian, John Birch…er, Clark Baker.

As a “recallista”, it hurts a lot to have to admit this possibility, but the fact that the donations are paltry five-dollar donations suggests that the whole thing could be an attempt by renegade recall-supporters to discredit Walker supporters. If there were hackers trying to use other people’s credit cards to further enrich Scott Walker’s campaign, you would think the donations would be more like twenty-five or fifty dollars. Hackers who wanted to discredit Walker supporters, however, would probably make the fraudulent donations to the Walker campaign as small as possible so that their little trick wouldn’t backfire by handing Walker larger sums of money. tl;dr: People suck.  :-(

I’ll ignore the Scott Walker part of the story.  I can barely stand writing his name.

However, I will address things to watch for on your debit and/or credit card.  I had a charge of $1.50 show up on my statement which I didn’t catch.  As soon as it cleared, two purchases from England totalling $1,100 went thru for a place called Pink Fluffy and another for a purse.  My credit union flagged the charges and stopped all transactions on my card until they could talk to me.  The $1.50 was used to buy a bus ticket from Philly to DC.  I happen to live in WI, so obviously it was bogus. 

It happened so fast that, without my credit union watching, I could have had many more charges.  My CU explained that the thiefs put through a small charge, hoping you won’t notice.  Once it goes through, they get to work immediately buying things.  How they got my number, I’ll never know.  Watch your statements carefully.  If you can see them online, do it every day.  It’s a pain, but well worth it. 

Actually, if I can influence one Walker supporter, then he’s worth talking about.  HE DID NOT BALANCE WI’S BUDGET.  HE DID NOT CREATE MORE JOBS.  These are lies and he’s getting away with it.  Union haters, do you realize we were LAST IN THE COUNTRY IN JOB CREATION.  Quit blaming your neighbors for getting good pension plans and good wages.  WI is not in trouble because of the unions.  Every US state and country in the world has been affected by the greed prevailing across our planet. 

Walker has even talked about “divide and conquer”.  Well, he seems to be doing a good job of that, anyway.  Do you really want to blame the person who plows your road at 3am?  Do you want to blame the people who work at city hall to keep your city or town efficient?  Last, but certainly not least, do you actually believe that the teachers of our children have caused the financial mess we’re in?  WI has always been at the top for # of graduates, people going on to college, etc.  You can find this info on the the government’s national website.

Read, educate yourself by watching a different program or read a different magazine.  By doing this, you will enrich your knowledge and know that Walker is promoting a social agenda.  Why do we need help with our social lives?  Plain and simple, we need help with JOBS!!

It takes a criminal mind to have set that scam up.Oh but scot had no knowledge of it.

That’s one of the few things I agree with the GOPee’er’s                                                                             .
“Some fools should not be allowed to vote - or make political campaign contributions.

For 5 dollars you make a big deal. The union thugs charge their people many times that amount each month for their dues. Down with those morons.  You liberals that think that everyone has a right to free entitlements, well you all can go to “you know where” .  Learn about fiscal responsibility and what the constitution really says and you will see that we do not want big government to intervene. Anyway, most of the liberal heads won’t get this anyway. So sad you can’t see the light.
You Obama heads should go live in Kenya for the rest of your lives and enjoy it. What a bunch of pathetic uninformed individuals you are!

Fandangle Bandana

May 18, 2012, 9:08 p.m.

Thanks, Kepmama, for the information. It’s obvious that the plan was to go for a bigger chunk after floating the trial balloon. I hope the twit Walker goes down in flames but it’s a tough fight against this kind of financing. And judging by some of the comments here, there’s a lot of stupidity to overcome. I mean what do “union thugs” have to do with this theft? What do unions have to do with the millions pouring in to Walker from out-of-state Kleptocrats? When unions were strong our country was strong. Read your history. Know your facts. Is there some corruption in unions? Of course there is. Is a country without unions better? No way. These people won’t be happy until Walker and Walmart and Koch Brothers have boarded up the few viable towns that are still left here after 32 years of conservative trending in USA. Where were you people when Bush/Cheney were putting a 3 trillion dollar hole in the economy? And now you blame unions so you can turn our schools into sweatshops. It’s pathetic….

lor kapelka you are a fricken moron! Just like all the corrupt bigot republicans out there. You cant stand it because Wisconsin under what he calls “leadership” of Slime bag Walker is #50 in the US for the most jobs lost.  He is a CROOK!!!!!!!!!

Lor, the 5 dollars were a fraudulent charge.. He’re I’ll spell it out for you… That means it wasn’t authorized by the cardholder… Its theft you ignorant tool.

Is theft fiscal responsibility, is that in the constitution? Only to a Walker supporter would that make sense…

Oh an btw, Walker didn’t balance the budget per GAAP method as he promised in his campaign… He pulled the same crap to “balance” things as his predecessor… He is no different than the liberals you morons blast for tax and spend…

Do some reading for once… Other than drudge or foxnews

The only free nation on earth is ICELAND, they told the unions,bankers & politicains to take a hike to the nearest lava Flow! All teachers, gov retirees & gov workers are being set up & they will protect their masters for a while & then they will trun on them just like every Roman did, some lasted a week & some 6 months, history is full of the same crap going down now. will give the true history you teachers failed to teached & why the heck should get paid to teach lies? Over 400,000 spent nuke fuel rods went into the Pacific in one day & the amount people being effected is way past any thing seen in all of history, all own by the Rothschilds & their butt buddies! Get over your five dollars, you own that much for teaching lies you knew were lies!

Mickey, calm down. You know how great Iceland’s economy is right now? Wait, you won’t believe me never mind. Also, that link is broken.

You’re attacking the entire American educational system on the basis of a broken link and a disdain for grammar and spelling. You need to try harder. Actual facts too, are often useful.

lor kapelka:

It’s obvious you have no idea how pensions are set up. They are not FREE entitlements! Part of the employees compensation was paid to them as they worked and earned it over the years in the form of their pension. These pensions are PRE idiots like you who seem to believe that you are paying state employees pensions with your taxes don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

Yeah, Mickey, that’s the ticket.  So, who was the bigger failure in your education, you or your teachers?

Why didn’t you work this hard while you were in school?

Lor, how can us pathetic, ignorant liberals “see the light” when you include no facts in your post?  If you do not have the facts to back your position, then you pound the table and demean the opposition, right?

The last time I heard, Friends of Scott Walker was actually based in Texas - the home of Robert Perry, the money man behind the Swift Boat campaign that targeted John Kerry. Texas has what to do with WI politics again?

Of all the phony, silly nonsense I’ve ever read, this has got to be the silliest AND phoniest.  Capital-One is “flagging” credit card donations to the “Friends of Scott Walker” but NOT flagging them to his opponent???  WTF?  Sounds to me like someone gave the wrong number with respect to that “retired teacher” in New York and the erroneous donation.  Fraud?  BS in SPADES!  Even if true, it’s NO WHERE of the magnitude of the fraudulent “signatures” on the petition to call this silly recall election in the first place.  Caught with their hands in the cookie jar, the corrupt unions seem to be manufacturing “fraud” on the part of the Scott Walker campaign so they can crow “Well, they do it too!”  Capital-One, as a recipient of millions in “bail-out” money, knows which side of the political aisle butters their bread.  I wouldn’t trust them with my money if there were no other bank in the country.

Linda - “Pre-funded,” Gracie?  Are you REALLY that stupid?  Where do you think that money comes from?  Do you think the unicorns dig it out of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?  And to think that morons like YOU are teaching our children gives me the willies.  EVERY dollar going to teachers comes out of the pockets of taxpayers…you remember them, the folks that DON’T live off of the dole?

The same thing has been happening with people who supported obama last go round and they are having their cards run for a donation this time even though they no longer support him-where’s your story on this

Jodiah Jacobs

May 19, 2012, 10:24 a.m.

“Union Thugs”? I’m a teacher, not a thug. I work my tail off in special education with a degree that cost me tens of thousands of dollars and over a decade to complete. The top .1% is waging a campaign to vilify the people that dedicate their lives to public service in order to ‘divide and conquer’ the powerful middle class. “Union Thugs”? We are firefighters, policemen and women, teachers and nurses trying to eek out a living wage in this increasingly hostile economic environment. We need to stick together and work toward a living wage and sustainable economy for all, not vilify those that are organized and fighting the good fight. Hannity is poisoning your mind. Unions are for the people. Corporations are for the dollars. Which matters more, dollars or people. You decide, this year you decide at the polls. Cast your ballot carefully.

Dan,why has this not been reported about the Obama campaign? just need to know but I betcha one thing,the people who no longer support Obama won’t have any bank account if the Teapublicans have their way.

Clark Baker (LAPD ret)

May 19, 2012, 10:45 a.m.

Tom R - I described “carding” on May 18 3:29PM but not how or why it happened to my company.

I am the director of a licensed 503c1 investigative agency (,  If you read some of our reports and OMSJ’s “Innocence Group” you will understand why the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries have similarly targeted us.

In our case, we did not spot dozens of fraudulent $1-$5 donations until several weeks ago when we received a call from a bank about an $1800 claim.  We (not the bank) discovered that the donation was generated through proxy servers in China and Australia.  The donations were made to discredit OMSJ - just as I suspect that they were generated against Gov. Walker.

We then audited our donations and refunded dozens of cardholders who were bilked by the offshore ring - but we could not report the use of unreported stolen credit card numbers that card holders were not yet aware of.

Based upon the characteristics of those donations, we recommended a series of inexpensive technical modifications that would automatically notify banks when merchant filters detected patterns of fraud.  There are currently fee-based filters available, but those can be improved.

Political targets like Gov. Walker were probably unaware of “carding” in this way - indeed, few fraud investigators have heard of the scam.  But I’m certain they will take steps to flag questionable contributions as we have.

I am very impressed with ProPublica’s reporting, but it appears that they took the bait this time by generating a negative story that organizations that hired the “carders” had hoped to produce.  The fact that the headline benefits belligerent unions suggests suggests which organizations were probably involved.

You’re a school teacher yet don’t know the difference between “eek” and “eke”?  I’m a 70-year old man, still working full time, with a degree that cost ME “tens of thousands of dollars” yet I’m FORCED to pay you more money than I make myself because of the thuggish behavior of your union and the fact that I have no say-so when your union comes in and makes demands for more and more while the quality of our education system sinks lower and lower.  Tell me what’s “fair” about that!  If you really wanted to engage in “public service” you’d kick the unions in their respective rears, demand that school systems get rid of teachers that can’t teach squat but only propagandize for leftist ideas that have NEVER worked anywhere on the planet for ANYONE but the ruling elites, and tell your students the unvarnished TRUTH for a change.

Papadave, please continue. What I’m your opinion is the “unvarnished truth?” Am interested to know your opinion.

papadave.  Why at 70 are you so angry at people 20-40 years younger than you trying to get where you are?

Are you saying that teachers don’t deserve a living wage and pension?  Do YOU have a pension?  How did you come by that?  Did you steal it from your employer?  What would you do if they tried to cut it, or better yet, unfund it?

The processor of the credit cards is in WAUKESHA!  New Berlin!  How do we not know that there aren’t a couple of Russells and Kavanaughs trying to add to the pot?

oh.  people who type by touch make mistakes, unlike those who carefully hunt and peck.

Looks like the CC companies are tracking political affiliation.

No reason to get hostile just because we know where your talking points come from, papadave. Your outrage is misplaced.  I’m a union member and have been for four decades. It’s people like you that make me glad that I am.

As for our school systems’ failing, you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. But that’s what can be expected from loudmouths like you who like hearing themselves bark at the moon.

Where to begin?  How about teaching your children that the first Thanksgiving meal was held to thank God for a successful harvest (the unvarnished truth) and not to thank “the Native Americans” as was published in my daughter’s 4th grade social studies book, just for starters?  Or how about teaching our children that anthropogenic global warming is a lie (since it is)?  Or how about teaching them that “science” is NOT determined by “majority opinion?” 

I am not “angry” at younger people and I have no problem with any of them getting “where I am”...still working at age 70 because I can’t afford to retire, for example.  I just resent having MY tax dollars stolen from me by an out-of-control government in order to provide government workers with a wage that’s larger than my own, allow them to retire in relative luxury at age 55 and also steal my money to pay off their political supporters.  (Yes, I DID mean “steal.”  Robbery is described in most penal codes as, “The taking of the property of another by force or threat of force and converting it to one’s own use, or the the use of another, not the owner.”  A perfect description of our income tax system if I ever heard one.)

I’ve worked for 53 years nonstop, including some jobs that are routinely unionized (I was a police detective for 7 years, for example)  The longest I was EVER unemployed was about 2 weeks between being a teacher at a junior college and working for a major oil company and for a month recouperating from major back surgery in 2002 because I was working as a consultant on contract and not as a company employee

By the way, I touch-type at about 70 wpm, so I’ll match my skills in that regard with you any time you like.

To dpjbro -
When our school students are aggregately testing lower and lower each year but the costs of “teaching” them are going higher and higher, something is sadly wrong with the system.  When the feds provide about 7% of the total funding of local schools but mandate about 80% of the curricula—most of which is far-left silliness like anthropogenic global warming or “how-to” instructions for those who are flirting with homosexuality, something is sadly wrong with the system.  When only 10% or so of high school students can find the City of Chicago or San Francisco on a map that doesn’t contain state boundaries, something is sadly wrong with the system. 

I’ve had this union argument before…with a beloved uncle who was a unionist most of his adult life and an alcoholic since returning from the Korean War.  He argued that he’d have lost his job long ago if it hadn’t been for the union “protecting” him.  I maintained that the union merely enabled his alcoholism and he wouldn’t have died of liver failure back in the 80’s at the age of 57!


May 19, 2012, 1:39 p.m.

There seems to be another scam attached to this crook.  Cooking the books and not being able to count them in time for the recall election.  The crook and his crooked friends are good.  Seems to me, he did this once before, got away with it and is doing it again.

Tammy -
Since you asked, my opinion of the “unvarnished truth” has been explained in some detail above, but to continue; How about teaching our children how to read and, more importantly, how to COMPREHEND what it is they’re reading?  How about teaching our children how to add, subtract, multiply and divide and stop this “new math” nonsense?  How about teaching actual “health” instead of how to put a condom on a cucumber?  How about restricting sex education to children who’ve at LEAST achieved puberty instead of stealing our childrens’ innocence, arousing their sexual curiosity ever earlier, and teach them how to protect themselves from pedophiles and other, various predators?  How about locking away pedophiles found to be teaching IN our schools and NEVER allowing them access to children again…ever…since pedophiles have the WORST recidivism rates of any criminals?  How about getting rid of teachers whose ONLY qualification is that they have a degree and are a member of some ethnic minority on the utterly stupid “principle” that “only a black teacher, for example, can ‘relate’ to black students or an Hispanic teacher to Hispanic kids?”  How about doing away with “bi-lingual” teaching altogether and use English immersion instead, so foreign language-speaking students will actually have a CHANCE to advance themselves in this country?  How about getting rid of teachers who simply can’t TEACH?

Those are all common-sense things that SHOULD be done to improve our public schools, but are fought tooth and toenail by the teacher unions…not because they don’t make sense, but the way things are being done now mean more dues-paying “teachers” are required and therefore more teachers beholden to the unions to protect their jobs and demand higher wages and better, more expensive, “freebies.”

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Buying Your Vote

Buying Your Vote: Dark Money and Big Data

ProPublica is following the money and exploring campaign issues you won't read about elsewhere.

Get Updates

Our Hottest Stories