I have referred to Obama’s $5 dinner promotion as a “raffle.”   I am not alone, as virtually every major news organization has used the same terminology.

Under any common understanding, it is a raffle, you pay money for a chance to win.  Payment of money is not required if one reads the fine print, but the large print and donation buttons seemed designed to create the impression that money is required.

I think it is cheesy and tawdry, but I have not claimed it is illegal. 

Under various laws, a “raffle” has a legal definition which would require registration or some other form of legal compliance.  Reader and commenter Alex Wingate e-mails me as follows, complaining that I used the word “raffle” rather than “sweepstake”:

Dear Prof. Jacobson,

After recalling that some time ago I had signed up to receive Obama emails which I have sense relegated to the spam folder, I decided to dig them up and see if they really did fail to include the required disclosures to ensure that the dinner offer was a sweepstakes under state and federal law.  When I opened one up, sure enough the disclosure was there; no purchase, payment or contribution necessary… It would seem in the interest of full disclosure for yourself, you ought to correct this, as you have been (I would assume inadvertently) misleading the readers into believing this to be a raffle, which under state and federal law it is not http://www.racing.state.ny.us/charitable/faqs_raffle.htm http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/notice_1340.pdf.  There are plenty of legitimate reasons to criticize Obama, why waste time and credibility on the illegitimate ones?

-Alex Wingate

P.S. I have included a screen caption of the relevant portion of the email.

I guess the out is that you can enter without paying, but I wonder how many people do that and how many are misled into thinking it costs $5 or $3 to enter?  This is the Publishers’ Sweepstakes problem, and now our President has been reduced to hawking dinner like Ed McMahon hawked magazines.

So I think it fits the common understanding of “raffle,” but maybe not the legal definition (I haven’t checked all 50 states).  Perhaps “sweepstakes” would have been a better term, but what substantive difference would that make to my posts since I’ve never claimed Obama failed to comply with state raffle laws?

We really are arguing over what the meaning of “is” is.

Here is the screen shot sent to me by Alex, with no redaction, so you can judge for yourself whether there is prominent disclosure that one does not have to pay to enter (click to enlarge):