The federal election commission voted unanimously on Thursday to recommend that Congress prevent political campaigns from routing donors to standard recurring contributions through pre-checked boxes, a month after an investigation by the New York Times found that the former president’s political operation was in place Donald J. Trump controlled large numbers of people who had ignorant supporters to repeated donations through this tactic.
The non-partisan commission, which functions as the country’s top election observation agency, is evenly split between three democratically-minded commissioners and three Republicans, which often leads to a stalemate. But commissioners from both parties, including three Republicans appointed by Mr. Trump, came together on Thursday to ask Congress to strengthen the law to fund campaigns to protect online donors.
“It is important that donors can make their decisions freely,” said Ellen L. Weintraub, a longtime Democratic commissioner for the FC, in an interview. “If their money is stolen from them because of a reverse check-off option that they didn’t notice, they don’t release their money.”
“It’s almost like theft,” added Ms. Weintraub. “I don’t want donors to be tricked.”
The Times investigation found that the Trump operation, which faced a monetary crisis last fall, had used pre-checked boxes to enroll each donor for weekly withdrawals – unless they cleared the box. Then the Trump operation made the disclaimer that revealed this fact increasingly opaque with foreign text. The Trump operation also checked a second box known as the “money bomb” that doubled a person’s contribution.
The demand for refunds has increased and credit card companies have seen an increase in fraud complaints, according to the research.
In total, the Trump Operation had to reimburse online supporters more than $ 122 million, 10.7 percent of what it raised in 2020 through WinRed, the Republican online donation processing platform. The total refund rate of the Biden operation for ActBlue, the parallel platform for processing Democratic donations, was 2.2 percent.
In addition to the recommendation of the F.E.C. announced Facebook that it is reviewing its guidelines for advertisers linking to pre-reviewed recurring donation pages. Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesperson, said that such tactics do not violate the company’s existing policy on fundraising policies, but rather that “we are looking closely at how this fundraising practice is being used on our platform to help ensure we are protecting the people, who use our services. “
The F.E.C. announced in its legislative recommendation that its staff have been “regularly contacted” by donors who do not remember approving recurring contributions.
“The Commission’s experience suggests that many contributors are unaware of the pre-ticked boxes and are surprised by the transactions that have already been completed on bank statements,” it said in its recommendation.
The commission asked Congress to amend the law to require the “consent” of all contributors before being included in recurring withdrawal programs.
The vote is also tacit recognition that the country’s top election observation agency is virtually unable under applicable law to prevent campaigns from unwittingly attracting donors to repeat contributions. Adav Noti, who previously worked for the F.E.C. The general counsel’s office, now a litigator with the Campaign Legal Center, said it was noteworthy that every recommendation was accepted by a commission so often hampered by partiality.
“It’s quite rare that they agree on a recommendation related to the Campaign Funding Act,” Noti said. The package of recommendations also calls on Congress to make it clear that no political funds can be used for personal purposes and to take action against so-called fraud PACs, which spend little on politics but enrich their operators.
WinRed, the dominant digital donation platform for the Republican Party, allows candidates to pre-check the recurring donation box. For example, Mr Trump continues to use such pre-checked boxes for his new political action committee.
And in the recent Texas House of Representatives special election, a Republican candidate, Dan Rodimer, deployed a pre-checked recurring donation box on a donation page that is, it would make withdrawals every week – through November 29, 2022, more than 80 weeks away.
“This is all standard in campaign fundraising,” said R.C. Maxwell, Mr. Rodimer’s press secretary. “Our campaign policy is to stop recurring donations at the end of the campaign.” Mr. Rodimer lost and finished 11th.
ActBlue has announced that it will phase out pre-screened recurring donation boxes, although two of the key Democratic groups ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, continue to use the tool.