As outlined in a new report from The New York Times, the Trump campaign has been caught essentially scamming its supporters out of millions of dollars, which it has since refunded — but not before using the money as a sort of “interest-free loan” through the final weeks of the 2020 presidential election cycle, as the Times put it. The Trump campaign accomplished its scamming operation through pre-checked boxes that routinely appeared on its fundraising pages and, if left checked, set up future donations beyond the donor’s initial payment.
One late-stage version of the box featured nine lines of bold text before getting to the notice that leaving the box checked would set up a recurring donation. In that particular iteration of the scheme, the actual notice of the recurring donation was not in bold, leaving prospective donors to pick through paragraphs at a time of alternately bold, all-caps, and regular text before getting to the points of what was actually getting set up by the boxes if they were left checked. Alongside the pre-checked boxes for the recurring donations, the Trump campaign also repeatedly employed pre-checked boxes that set up additional one-time donations.
In the October version of the Trump campaign’s fundraising plea that featured the paragraph-long recurring donation mess, eight lines of bold text appeared before the regularly styled text that stated what the second pre-checked box would actually do. Trump campaign donations were processed by a right-wing company called WinRed, which Republicans set up during the Trump era as a sort of response to ActBlue, a left-wing fundraising portal that serves as a centralized hub for online donations to Democratic causes.
According to the Times, Republican groups including the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee “issued more than 530,000 refunds worth $64.3 million to online donors” throughout the final two and a half months of 2020, which is over 10 times the amount that Biden’s campaign refunded during the same time period. (The total amount of the Biden campaign’s late 2020 refunds topped out at $5.6 million.) The Biden campaign largely did not use pre-checked boxes, so a main origin point for the difference seems pretty clear.
In the description of the Times, “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,” which is comparatively enormous considering the high rates of spending in the U.S. and the comparatively lower rates of political spending. Trump’s campaign covered the copious refund demands in part with money that he raised after the election in connection to his false claims that the race had been rigged for Biden. Most of these post-election donations never actually went towards election-related court fights. Trump was, in short, running a grift.