Election 2020 Politics

NRCC warns donors Trump will find out if they opt out of monthly donations

The tactic, roundly criticized by campaign finance experts as deceptive, was employed by the Trump campaign in the final months ahead of the 2020 election to shore up its dwindling coffers.

Many supporters who intended to donate just once were unwittingly enrolled to give weekly because they didn’t read the fine print requiring them to uncheck a box, a New York Times investigation found, resulting in credit card complaints, overdrafts and the Trump campaign refunding tens of millions of dollars to its supporters.

The Trump team continued the recurring payments for more than a month after the November election.

Now the NRCC’s use of recurring payments has drawn comparisons to Trump campaign’s fundraising scheme.

NRCC spokesman Michael McAdams defended the practice, saying in an email that it “employs the same standards that are accepted and utilized by Democrats and Republicans across the digital fundraising ecosystem.”

The fundraising platform for Republicans, called WinRed, and for Democrats, called ActBlue, have both used prechecked boxes to set up recurring donations. But the New York Times found the amount of refunds WinRed made to donors in 2020 far exceeded what ActBlue returned to supporters.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) shared screenshots of its prompts after an initial donation is made that says “Make it monthly!” with “Yes, count me in” prechecked next to an option that says, “No, donate once.” If the person chooses the recurring option, a pop-up appears confirming the monthly payment with a link that says, “Make this a one-time contribution instead?”

“Unlike the NRCC, we use clear language and confirm with our grassroots supporters that they would like to set up a recurring monthly donation.” Helen Kalla, DCCC spokeswoman said.

Craig Holman, a lobbyist on good government issues at Public Citizen, said requests for recurring donations are common, but always offer clear instructions and don’t threaten repurcussions if a donor opts out.

The Republicans’ tactic, he said, is “extortion,” “akin to blackmail” and “highly unethical,” but it’s not illegal. Political donors who feel duped or coerced don’t have a lot of legal recourse under campaign finance or consumer protection laws.

Paul Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at left-leaning Common Cause, said it comes down to “basic human decency.”

“While it should be easy for supporters of an organization to make recurring donations, people shouldn’t be tricked or bullied into making donations,” Ryan said. “NRCC and Trump solicitations seem to have crossed this line.”

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