Trump campaign used 'dizzyingly complex' pre-checked boxes to reel in recurring donations amid dwindling finances

Trump-Pence campaign sign.
(Image credit: Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

Despite deteriorating finances, the Trump campaign was able to stay afloat last year in part thanks to what amounted to "an interest-free loan from unwitting supporters at the most important juncture of the 2020 [presidential] race," a New York Times investigation found.

Reporter Shane Goldmacher writes that the campaign used pre-checked boxes, which became "dizzyingly complex" as finances worsened. If donors missed the fine print, what they thought were one-time donations wound up recurring weekly. Another pre-checked box automatically added cash to the amount given.

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The Times provided details about specific cases, including one man who donated $500, but soon discovered the campaign had reeled in $3,000 from him within 30 days, depleting and freezing his bank account.

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When all was said and done, the Trump campaign refunded $122 million or 10 percent of what it raised online in 2020, and Goldmacher notes the number will likely still increase. For context, the Biden campaign refunded $20.2 million, or 2.2 percent of its online donations, over the same span.

Jason Miller, a spokesman for former President Donald Trump, downplayed the refund requests and fraud complaints the campaign received, noting only 0.87 percent of transactions were subject to formal credit card disputes. But, Goldmacher writes, that 0.87 percent rate translates to 200,000 donations accounting for $19.7 million.

A fraud investigator for Wells Fargo told the Times that complaints against the Trump campaign and WinRed, the company that processed its online donations, surged around the time the recurring donation box appeared. "It started to go absolutely wild," the investigator said. Read more at The New York Times.

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Tim O'Donnell

Tim is a staff writer at The Week and has contributed to Bedford and Bowery and The New York Transatlantic. He is a graduate of Occidental College and NYU's journalism school. Tim enjoys writing about baseball, Europe, and extinct megafauna. He lives in New York City.