Though he lost the race, Donald Trump raised a lot of money in the lead-up to the 2020 election. The campaign also refunded a lot of it — some $122 million, in 2020 alone. It’s not uncommon for campaign donations to be refunded, but contrast that number with the amount the Biden team returned: $21 million. There’s a reason for the disparity: As per The New York Times, online fundraising messages from Trump had a shady way to trick supporters into giving more donations than they perhaps intended.
As per the Times, in the final two months of the campaign, the Trump started using pre-checked boxes roping supporters into making recurring donations. Some found their bank accounts depleted and frozen after making initial donations they couldn’t much afford in the first place.
Times reporters discovered that, as early as March of last year, online Trump donation forms came with a yellow box that read “Make this a monthly payment.” Thing is, it was already pre-checked, and only eagle-eyed supporters could catch that they were being automatically roped into regular payments.
By early September, the forms started adding other elements. Pre-checked boxes for monthly donations evolved into weekly payments, in what was internally referred to as a “money bomb.” One box got people to pay an additional $100 later that month. Refunds ballooned; of the $122 million returned to supporters, $64.3 million of that was done in the last two months. But despite the huge refunds, the cash-strapped Trump team got what they wanted. As per NYT:
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.
Trump continued to raid his supporters’ pockets after he lost the election. In the days after the race was formally called for Biden, he launched an “Election Defense campaign,” in which donations under $600 simply went to a Trump Political Action Committee and to the RNC.
Time will tell how many Trump supporters will grow wise to such shenanigans, but it’s clear some of them were royally screwed. The article tells of one Stacy Blatt, who was in hospice care for the cancer that would soon take his life. He was living on less than $1000 a month, and yet he gave the then-president $500:
Another $500 was withdrawn the next day, then $500 the next week and every week through mid-October, without his knowledge — until Mr.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. When his utility and rent payments bounced, he called his brother, Russell, for help.
What the Blatts soon discovered was $3,000 in withdrawals by the Trump campaign in less than 30 days. They called their bank and said they thought they were victims of fraud.
“It felt,” Russell said, “like it was a scam.”
(Via The New York Times)