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Trump Campaign Donors Say Campaign Tricked Them Into Repeat Contributions

Newsweek logo Newsweek 4/5/2021 Benjamin Fearnow
Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump sitting at a table in a suit and tie: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump share a laugh during a cabinet meeting at the White House on July 18, 2018 in Washington, D.C. © Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Donald Trump share a laugh during a cabinet meeting at the White House on July 18, 2018 in Washington, D.C.

In the waning days of former President Donald Trump's reelection campaign, many of his donors say they fell victim to an online prechecked box "scam" that coerced them into unwittingly making recurring financial contributions.

A 63-year-old cancer patient in hospice care in Kansas is among several Trump supporters who were scammed into recurring withdrawals that decimated their already depleted bank accounts, according to The New York Times. The paper's investigation, published Saturday, used federal records and personal Trump-voter statements to corroborate the claim that Trump's campaign used an "intentional scheme to boost revenues." The Times report alleges the Trump campaign team methodically hid fine-print disclaimers and manual opt-out donation boxes in order to manipulate donors into giving more through a second-prechecked box, known internally as a "money bomb."

"It felt like it was a scam," said Russell Blatt, the brother of Stacy Blatt, the cancer patient, who died in February. He was duped into $3,000 of unwanted recurring withdrawals that went straight to the "deteriorating" Trump campaign, his brother told the Times.

"Bandits! I'm retired I can't afford to pay all that damn money," said California resident Victor Amelino, 78, who made a $990 online donation to Trump in September via WinRed, the GOP's official fundraising platform, according to the Times. That same payment would recur seven more times, adding up to almost $8,000 of unwanted donations.

On Monday, the Trump campaign issued a statement that refuted the investigation by the "failing New York Times" and said the former president and Republicans "beat the Democrats at their own game." The statement also said that the campaign's "dispute rate" was less than 1 percent and that the "cheating Democrats" actually scammed more people.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) and the Trump campaign issued more than 530,000 separate refunds worth $64.3 million to online donors, according to the Times. By comparison, Democratic candidate Joe Biden was out-fundraising Trump by $150 million at the time, even as Trump and the GOP amassed these recurring payments that they later had to refund.

To cover the massive refund losses and his diminished fundraising ability, Trump raised tens of millions of dollars after the election "under the guise of fighting his unfounded fraud claims," the Times report said.

"In effect, the money that Mr. Trump eventually had to refund amounted to an interest-free loan from unwitting supporters at the most important juncture of the 2020 race," the Times investigation found.

The Times report alleges that the shady tactic "ensnared scores of unsuspecting Trump loyalists," including military veterans, nurses and even several GOP political operatives. The process ultimately made it harder and more confusing for donors to opt out of online contributions to the cash-desperate Trump campaign.

Speaking to Fox News, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel championed the Trump campaign and party for "thinking smarter digitally and outmaneuvering" Democrats after they had their largest fundraising date on June 14, Trump's birthday last year. She did not mention that the shady recurring payments were a major factor behind the sudden financial boon.

Jeff Kropf, an executive at the conservative Oregon Capitol Watch Foundation, told the Times he had been "very careful" about unchecking recurring boxes. But he missed the "money bomb" check boxes that the Trump campaign had hidden in order to secure the continuing payments.

Newsweek reached out to the former president's office for comment on the Times report but did not hear back before publication.

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