Over the second half of 2020, as Joe Biden’s presidential campaign raked in money hand over fist, the cash-strapped Trump campaign apparently decided to try a novel approach ― trickery.
A New York Times report published Saturday said Donald Trump’s reelection campaign used scammy online tactics to draw millions of dollars from unwitting supporters to buoy itself, particularly as Election Day drew near last September and October.
Much of the money that Trump accrued eventually had to be refunded, the Times reported, but it effectively served as “an interest-free loan” at the “most important juncture of the 2020 race.” Trump was reportedly able to cover the refunds with the millions he raised after the election in his quest to fight baseless claims of election fraud.
Throughout 2020, $122 million in online donations to Trump were refunded, compared to $21 million in refunded donations to Biden, the Times reported.
While campaign refunds themselves are not unusual, the scale at which the Trump campaign refunded money was highly so.
Unlike other campaigns in history, both Democratic and Republican, the Trump campaign chose to make recurring donations the default option for online donors, forcing supporters to read all the fine print and manually uncheck a box to opt out.
The campaign apparently debuted its scheme in March 2020, checking a box by default on its donation portal that said: “Make this a monthly recurring donation.”
Then, ahead of Trump’s birthday, June 14, the campaign added another pre-checked box, reading: “Let’s break a fundraising record on President Trump’s birthday! Join now!” Smaller text reads: “This additional donation will process on 6/14.”
These efforts became even more brazen in September after Trump campaign officials learned the Biden campaign had outraised them to the tune of some $150 million. The donations checkbox was changed so that instead of automatically drawing monthly donations, money would be drawn weekly.
“Join the President’s Executive Club – For true patriots only,” the box now read. In smaller text: “Make this a weekly recurring donation until 11/3.”
In one particularly ghastly example, a 63-year-old Kansas City man with terminal cancer was duped into giving the campaign $3,000 ― more than three times his monthly budget for living expenses ― despite believing he had only made a one-time donation of $500.