Trump's Recurring Donations: Interest-Free Loan at Americans' Expense

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Apr. 5 2021, Published 11:17 a.m. ET

The 2020 presidential election isn't behind us yet. Reports clarify that former President Donald Trump finagled unwitting supporters into donating more money to his campaign than they expected due to well-hidden recurring donation checkboxes.

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The Trump campaign has since issued millions in refunds to supporters across the country. Americans who might never have questioned Trump's motives now question his intent, particularly during an ongoing economic crisis.  

Trump's recurring donations

In September 2020, just weeks out from the presidential election, the Trump campaign restructured the donation site to pre-select a checkbox allowing recurring donations. The box wasn't in plain sight, but rather after a section of thorough disclaimer text. Ultimately, it led to weekly payments to the Trump campaign, even if an individual only wanted to submit a one-time donation.

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Then, even closer to the election, the campaign introduced a second pre-checked box. This box doubled a person's contribution the next day.

After analyzing the disclaimer, reporters uncovered that the campaign used bolded and capitalized letters to distract supporters from the checkboxes even more.

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The result was numerous payments from unsuspecting supporters, who were charged again the following day after their first payment, and then on a weekly basis until the election. This caused two problems. First, it pushed many donations past the legal limit of $2,800 per person per campaign. Second, it put an undue financial strain on many of Trump's supporters during a time of high unemployment and extenuating health circumstances.

While some suggest that it's a commonly used practice to pre-check recurring donations boxes, critics pose the notion that Trump's campaign went above and beyond to fool people. But why? The Trump campaign was strained from lavish spending. These recurring donations effectively acted as an interest-free loan. They send refunds to Americans without any interest to go along. 

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Comparing Trump's refunds to Biden's

From mid-October to the end of December 2020, Trump's campaign issued 530,000 refunds totaling $64.3 million. In comparison, President Biden's campaign issued 37,000 refunds totaling $5.6 million. In that time, Biden's refunds amounted to just 8.7 percent of Trump's. They're also more in line with typical refund metrics, which tend to occur when individuals donate past the legal limit of $2,800.

Throughout all of 2020, Trump refunded $122 million, while Biden refunded $21 million. Many of Trump's donations were made on a platform called WinRed—a for-profit company that processes campaign donation transactions for the Republican party. 

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The full effect of hoodwinking Americans during a pandemic through recurring donations

In September 2020, when Trump first started using the recurring donation tactic to maximize funding, 7.9 percent of Americans were unemployed. This is just over half of the unemployment rate when it was at its peak in April 2020, but it still amounts to 12.6 million people.

To put it into perspective, Trump incurred 74 million popular votes in the 2020 presidential election. For comparison's sake, the unemployment rate in September accounts for 16.9 percent of that.

If anything, this just goes to show that the Trump campaign capitalized on Americans during a time of severe economic hardship for many. 

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