Some Trump supporters gave more than they intended in 2020 after being faced with a confusing online contribution form with check boxes that included small type, The New York Times discovered in an investigation earlier this year. Contributions that many donors assumed consisted of a one-time payment automatically became weekly — unless givers unchecked a specific box to opt out of weekly payments.
The dodgy strategy to quickly goose revenue triggered a “cascade of fraud complaints” to credit card companies and demands for refunds, the Times noted.
In total, an astonishing $135 million was refunded to donors by Trump and the RNC from the beginning of the 2020 campaign through June 2021 — including about $60 million after Election Day — according to new Federal Election Commission records from the Republican donation-processing site WinRed, the newspaper reported.
“It’s pretty clear that the Trump campaign was engaging in deceptive tactics,” Peter Loge, the director of the Project on Ethics in Political Communication at George Washington University, told the Times. “If you have to return that much money you are doing something either very wrong or very unethical.”
At the start of 2020, the refund rates for the Trump and Joe Biden campaigns were roughly the same, Times reporter Shane Goldmacher told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow earlier this year. But as Trump became hungrier for cash, the campaign added a confusing second check box, smaller type and “obscured the language” of the donation form. That cranked up contributions from duped donors, who later furiously complained.
The refund rate for the Trump campaign in the last half of 2020 zoomed to 12%, said Goldmacher.
Biden’s campaign outraised Trump’s in a number of categories in the months leading up to the 2020 election. For example, Biden, the Democratic National Committee and their joint fundraising committee pulled in about $64 million more in donations smaller than $200 each from July 1 through Sept. 30, when compared with Trump, the Republican National Committee and their joint committees, according to a HuffPost analysis of Federal Election Commission filings. Based on FEC reports of September 2020 contributions and expenditures, Biden and the Democratic Party had $415 million in the bank heading into October, while Trump and the Republican Party had $252 million.
Of the donation refunds issued this year, $8.1 million came from Trump’s shared account with the RNC, according to the records. Another $2.2 million came from Trump’s reelection committee, and $2.5 million was issued by the party itself, according to the Times.
Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller did not respond to the Times’ request for comment.
Check out Goldmacher’s full interview with Maddow in the clip up top.