Sometimes the New York Times gets it right:

How Trump Steered Supporters Into Unwitting Donations

During the 2020 campaign, Trump kept running short of cash. (Anything less than “all of it” is short of cash in his eyes.) So he died what unscrupulous advertisers often do: He rigged his donation website so that, unless you opted out, your one-time donation became a monthly or weekly one, and sometimes you doubled it. Then he hid the opt-out buttons behind BIG TYPE and other tricks.

Facing a cash crunch and getting badly outspent by the Democrats, the campaign had begun last September to set up recurring donations by default for online donors, for every week until the election. Contributors had to wade through a fine-print disclaimer and manually uncheck a box to opt out.

As the election neared, the Trump team made that disclaimer increasingly opaque, an investigation by The New York Times showed. It introduced a second prechecked box, known internally as a “money bomb,” that doubled a person’s contribution. Eventually its solicitations featured lines of text in bold and capital letters that overwhelmed the opt-out language.

It’s the same technique marketers use to get you to unwittingly subscribe to a magazine.

Victims included a cancer patient who could barely afford the single donation he thought he was making:

Stacy Blatt was in hospice care last September listening to Rush Limbaugh’s dire warnings about how badly Donald J. Trump’s campaign needed money when he went online and chipped in everything he could: $500.

It was a big sum for a 63-year-old battling cancer and living in Kansas City on less than $1,000 per month. But that single contribution — federal records show it was his first ever — quickly multiplied. Another $500 was withdrawn the next day, then $500 the next week and every week through mid-October, without his knowledge — until Mr. Blatt’s bank account had been depleted and frozen.

As generally happens, Trump got caught.

Around [October], officials who fielded fraud claims at bank and credit card companies noticed a surge in complaints against the Trump campaign and WinRed.

“It started to go absolutely wild,” said one fraud investigator with Wells Fargo. “It just became a pattern,” said another at Capital One. A consumer representative for USAA, which primarily serves military families, recalled an older veteran who discovered repeated WinRed charges from donating to Mr. Trump only after calling to have his balance read to him by phone.

The unintended payments busted credit card limits. Some donors canceled their cards to avoid recurring payments. Others paid overdraft fees to their bank.


Several bank representatives who fielded fraud claims directly from consumers estimated that WinRed cases, at their peak, represented as much as 1 to 3 percent of their workload. An executive for one of the nation’s larger credit-card issuers confirmed that WinRed at its height accounted for a similar percentage of its formal disputes.

That figure may seem small at first glance, but financial experts said it was a shockingly large percentage, considering that political donations represent a tiny fraction of the overall United States economy.

And as generally happens when that happens, he constructed a new scheme to get him off the hook on the old one:

The recurring donations swelled Mr. Trump’s treasury in September and October, just as his finances were deteriorating. He was then able to use tens of millions of dollars he raised after the election, under the guise of fighting his unfounded fraud claims, to help cover the refunds he owed.
In effect, the money that Mr. Trump eventually had to refund amounted to an interest-free loan from unwitting supporters at the most important juncture of the 2020 race.

Trump was — and still is — running a Ponzi scheme.

As the Times story points out, the Biden campaign also refunded money to donors. This is not a “both sides do it” story, though, for two reasons: The Times points out that this happens frequently as donors go over the allowed limits, or unintentionally donate illegally. And the Times go on to highlight kicker: the Biden campaign returned $21mm in donations all told, in the typical range for a presidential campaign. The Trump campaign had to cough up $122mm — one hundred twenty-two million dollars. And WinRed deducted its processing fees from the refunds, something ActBlue said it didn’t do.

All told, the Trump and party operation raised $1.2 billion on WinRed, and refunded roughly 10 percent of it.

You would think, given the trouble Trump is already in, he’d lay low. But then, you don’t think like Trump.

Now WinRed is exporting the tools it pioneered during the Trump re-election across the Republican Party, presaging a new normal for G.O.P. campaigns. . . .

And after Mr. Trump’s first public speech of his post-presidency at the end of February, his new political operation sent its first text message to supporters since he left the White House. “Did you miss me?” he asked.

The message directed supporters to a WinRed donation page with two prechecked yellow boxes. Mr. Trump raised $3 million that day, according to an adviser, with more to come from the recurring donations in the months ahead.

This is the “new normal” for Republican campaigns. But here’s the thing (as President Biden likes to say): More and more Republicans are catching on. And they don’t like it.

Keith Millhouse, a transportation consultant in California, intended to donate once to Mr. Perdue, with the aim of keeping Republicans in control of the Senate. He wound up a recurring contributor and called the practice “repugnant” and “deceptive.”

I think the DNC could make a great ad campaign attacking this practice and using statements from real Republicans who got caught by it.

  • April 3, 2021