- The Trump 2020 campaign reportedly duped supporters into making recurring donations without their consent.
- Donors, including cancer patients, who intended to make a one-time contribution ended up making more.
- According to the New York Times, donations were automatically set to repeat when supporters got to the final stages of contributing.
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In what seemed to be an effort to bolster political contributions in the heat of the 2020 election against now President Joe Biden, the Trump 2020 campaign reportedly duped supporters into making recurring donations without their explicit or known consent.
An investigation of Federal Election Commission records done by the New York Times found that the Trump campaign, in the last two months of 2020, was forced to give hundreds of thousands of refunds in the amount of about $64 million. In total the campaign refunded $122 million, the newspaper said.
Many of these accidental repeat donors believed they were signing up to give a one-time contribution, the New York Times reported. Some of the victims of this scheme, like 63-year-old Stacy Blatt, were cancer patients who found themselves unable to pay bills and rent because of the repeated donations to the Trump campaign, the newspaper reported.
It started with an unusual and “aggressive” move: the addition of a small, bright yellow box on Trump’s campaign donation portal in March 2020.
“Make this a monthly recurring donation,” the text in the box read. The box had automatically been checked off as soon as donors landed on the page, the Times reported.
In order to avoid this recurring donation, donors had to manually opt out, the Times said.
Months later, the donation portal added a second pre-checked box. This time, the box automatically directed an additional contribution from the donor in honor of Trump’s birthday in June, according to the Times.
Between June and September, contributions were pouring into the Biden campaign. So the Trump campaign ramped up its approach.
By September, the text in the initial pre-checked box silently changed from “monthly” to “weekly” donation, according to the newspaper.
At this point, the Biden campaign had outraised Trump’s by about $150 million, the Times reported. At the same time, Trump’s own campaign finances were depleting.
Unrealizing Trump supporters began to make several repeated donations to the campaign over the course of a month.
Critics who spoke to the Times blasted the move.
“It’s unfair, it’s unethical and it’s inappropriate,” Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, said.
“It should be in textbooks of what you shouldn’t do,” London-based Harry Brignull, a user-experience designer familiar with manipulative digital marketing practices, told the paper.
Jason Miller, a spokesperson for Trump, told the Times: “The fact we had a dispute rate of less than 1 percent of total donations despite raising more grass-roots money than any campaign in history is remarkable.”
The repeat donations became particularly rampant in the months between September and October, after the campaign employed the series of aggressive moves, the Times reported.
In total, the Trump campaign returned a staggering 10.7% of money secured through WinRed, the Republican Party’s contribution portal. In contrast, the Biden campaign returned just 2.2% of the money raised through ActBlue, the Democratic Party’s counterpart.
Trump supporters who had unwittingly donated their money to the campaign filed fraud complaints upon noticing unauthorized withdrawals, the Times reported.