Image 01 Image 03

Obama’s “Raffle”

Obama’s “Raffle”

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  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):


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


I find it funny that the majority of the articles that show up when you search Google for “obama raffle dinner” are also articles that fail to mention that there is a free way to enter. I also find it funny that the majority of articles in major news organizations that call it a raffle without putting the words in quotes, with the exception of Fox News, are on blogs for those organizations rather than actual articles.

I thought my point was a fair one, that you were claiming it to be a raffle AND failing to include the fine print in the screencaps of the email posted on this blog while stating they were the “full” email, which appeared to be enough to thoroughly confuse reader “retire05”. If you’re going to complain about a lack full disclosure, shouldn’t you be willing to live up to that standard?

I’ll keep note that you don’t think the fine print should count, that should definitely make the securities law clinic more interesting. And despite your attacks and use of a Google search that was guaranteed to be biased towards your desired outcome, I thank you for actually posting the full email. All I ask is that arguments be fair, I didn’t realize that was such a crime.

You know that means we could have easily flooded the box with non-donating applications, and then we could send the winning ticket to, say Glenn Beck. That would have been so funny.

What’s next, a free Slurpee? Nope they let you get “in” for 3 bucks and take the other 2 bucks and buy the Slurpee.

A push really.

I’ll be interested to know how many rubes donated 5 bucks. Or during the last throes of this dying catastrophe, 3 bucks. Geez, what a putz.

My guess: very (very very) few (if any?) readers of this blog would enter this raffle, even if it were called a sweepstakes.

In fact, I’d be willing to wager that I’m not alone in knowing that if I received a personal phone call from this president, inviting me to dinner with he and Joe, I’d find that I was busy that night. Really really busy. Watching paint dry.

Carol Herman | July 1, 2011 at 4:31 pm

I wouldn’t give you two cents for this raffle ticket!

Wow, we’ve come a long distance away from JFK’s Camelot. Let me tell ya.

Ya know, the way things look now, even if the GOP runs “The Horse’s Ass” … the ass will pull forward and win.

I thought it was a “rifle”. I was going to send in my $5. Who would want to share a meal with this guy anyway?

Hmmm… Here’s Florida. Caveat, the following was not seriously researched. (I kind of like the nuisance possibilities):

Contest in which participants had only to mail their address to become eligible to win illegal because a list of possible customers could be made from the addresses mailed in. 60 Fla. Op. Atty Gen. 60-117. The only consideration needed is that sufficient for a simple contract. Blackburn v. Ippolito, 156 So.2d 550, 554 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App.1963)”…

“Fla. Stat. §849.09, unlawful to promote or conduct a lottery for money or anything of value. §849.0935, 849.09 “shall not be construed to prohibit an organization qualified under 26 U.S.C. s. 501(c)(3), (4), (7), (8), (10), or (19), from conducting drawings by chance pursuant to the authority granted by this section, provided the organization has complied with all applicable provisions of chapter 496… unlawful for any organization that is authorized… to require an entry fee, donation, substantial consideration, payment, proof of purchase, or contribution…” 97 Fla. Op. Atty Gen. 97-54…

Illegal to play or engage in any game at cards, keno, roulette, faro or other game of chance for money or other thing of value; Fla. Stat. §849.08…

Illegal to set up, promote, or conduct any lottery for money or for anything of value, Fla. Stat. §849.09…

Gambling may be enjoined as nuisance, Fla. Stat. §60.05-06. Anything that annoys the public, or is harmful to public health and morals is a nuisance… Lee v. City of Miami, 163 So. 486, 489 (Fla. 1935)…

Unlawful to sell lottery tickets to minors. Fla. Stat. §24.116, §24.117…

Third degree felony to commit common law “gross fraud of cheat”. Fla. Stat. §817.29…

Illegal to give buyer a rebate or discount in return for providing names of other potential buyers to seller if the discount or rebate is contingent on some future event, Fla. Stat. §849.0915…

Illegal to print lottery tickets or advertise for illegal lottery, Fla. Stat. §849.10; illegal to set up, promote or play at any game of chance by lot or with dice,cards, numbers, hazards or any other gambling device whatever for anything of value. Fla. Stat. §849.11; all illegal lottery receipts are forfeited, Fla. Stat. §849.12…

Florida Statutes are at

Not illegal, professor?
Laws are for the little people, not President Obama
Jeannie DeAngelis

The following description of Title 18, subsection 607 U.S.C. is so straightforward even a layperson could understand.

It shall be unlawful for an individual who is an officer or employee of the Federal Government, including the President, Vice President, and Members of Congress, to solicit or receive a donation of money or other thing of value in connection with a Federal, State, or local election, while in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties…

In other words, the law says Barack Obama should not solicit reelection money or donations while in any room or building where official duties are carried out – such as hawking a wheel of raffle tickets on White House premises as if it were a church dance sweepstakes for a cheap door prize…

According to election law experts, in flagrant disregard for federal law President Obama filmed a fundraising video offering dinner with himself and Vice President Biden as the grand prize for having a $5 raffle ticket plucked out of a giant spinning drum…

What’s next, a car wash on the South Lawn? How about $100 for 10-minute spin on Marine One? And why stop there? A White House yard sale featuring Michelle’s old clothes could raise enough gas money to fill up the “Hope and Change 2012” campaign bus for its entire tour…

Regardless of how the White House parses and spins, according to legal election law experts, “If the video was filmed in the Map Room, as it appears to be, then there is no question it violates the law.”

Experts contend that by soliciting funds in the White House to finance a bid for reelection, the President is definitely bending if not outright breaking the federal law. Cleta Mitchell, member of the American Bar Association’s election law committee, spoke more plainly when addressing the fact that Barack Obama filmed his $5 “Come On-A My House” ad in the White House — she said his doing so is a blatant “criminal offense.”…