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Trump Campaign: Scamming Elderly Voters Is Only Okay When We Do It

The campaign—which once took a hard line against “dishonest fundraising groups” that “confuse voters”—reportedly used misleading tactics in online fundraising to amass millions in donations. 

Former President Donald Trump reportedly convinced unwitting supporters to give tens of millions in recurring donations to his 2020 campaign—a scam that allowed the campaign to withdraw weekly payments from one-time contributors as the election neared. The strategy emerged around March of last year, the New York Times reported Saturday, when the Trump campaign began featuring a pre-checked box on the online donation portal that, unless donors manually opted out, made their single contribution a monthly recurring payment. 

Trump’s team and the Republican National Committee deployed a second pre-checked box in June, called the “money bomb,” which doubled a donor’s intended donation and helped skyrocket online contributions to record-breaking levels. Come fall, the Trump campaign had ratcheted up their operation with tweaks to the auto-checked boxes: the first box, which was initially for a monthly recurring donation, now indicated that the amount would be withdrawn weekly. Donation disclaimers were taken out of boldface type, according to prior versions reviewed by the Times, and increasingly overshadowed by bold text and Trump’s signature use of words in all caps.

Upon discovering the state of their bank accounts, many Trump donors initially thought they had been victims of fraud. That was true for Stacy Blatt, a Trump supporter in his 60’s who died of cancer in February but, from hospice care last September, chose to donate $500 to the campaign. In less than 30 days, that sum had multiplied to $3,000 in withdrawals. “It felt like it was a scam,” Blatt’s brother, Russell, told the Times. Another supporter surprised to see their donation multiply was Victor Amelino, a 78-year-old California resident whose $900 online donation to Trump swelled to nearly $8,000. “I’m retired. I can’t afford to pay all that damn money,” he told the outlet.

Many swindled by the campaign issued fraud complaints to banks and credit card companies, and the Times reports that the Trump operation issued $122 million in total refunds in 2020—$101 million more than President Joe Biden’s campaign issued. Trump was “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,” according to the Times. Trump spokesman Jason Miller downplayed the fraud complaints to the paper. When asked if Trump himself was aware of the recurring payment model, the campaign did not respond.

All of which is particularly ironic given the stand the Trump campaign took against misleading donation tactics back in May 2019, amid reports that Trump campaign adviser David Bossie was using the president’s name to scam donors—mostly elderly and retired voters—for his own financial gain. The Trump campaign “condemns any organization that deceptively uses the President’s name…and confuses voters,” it said in a statement, rebuking “dishonest fundraising groups” whose “actions show they are interested in filling their own pockets with money from innocent Americans’ paychecks,” for which “there is no excuse.”

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