How Trump Steered Supporters Into Unwitting Donations
Stacy Blatt was in hospice care last September listening to Rush Limbaugh’s dire warnings about how badly Donald J. Trump’s campaign needed money when he went online and chipped in everything he could: $500.
It was a big sum for a 63-year-old battling cancer and living in Kansas City on less than $1,000 per month. But that single contribution — federal records show it was his first ever — quickly multiplied. Another $500 was withdrawn the next day, then $500 the next week and every week through mid-October, without his knowledge — until Mr. Blatt’s bank account had been depleted and frozen. When his utility and rent payments bounced, he called his brother, Russell, for help.
What the Blatts soon discovered was $3,000 in withdrawals by the Trump campaign in less than 30 days. They called their bank and said they thought they were victims of fraud.
“It felt,” Russell said, “like it was a scam.”
Unlike ActBlue, which is a nonprofit, WinRed is a for-profit company. It makes its money by taking 30 cents of every donation, plus 3.8 percent of the amount given. WinRed was paid more than $118 million from federal committees the last election cycle; even after paying credit card fees and expenses like payroll and rent, the profits are believed to be significant.
There is another reason Mr. Trump’s refund rates were so high: His campaign accepted millions of dollars above the legal cap, a problem exacerbated by recurring donations. A pianist in New York, for instance, contributed more than 100 times in the months leading up to Election Day, going far past the legal limit of $2,800. She was refunded $87,716.50 — three weeks after Election Day.
Several bank representatives who fielded fraud claims directly from consumers estimated that WinRed cases, at their peak, represented as much as 1 to 3 percent of their workload. An executive for one of the nation’s larger credit-card issuers confirmed that WinRed at its height accounted for a similar percentage of its formal disputes.
That figure may seem small at first glance, but financial experts said it was a shockingly large percentage, considering that political donations represent a tiny fraction of the overall United States economy.
While every large-scale campaign winds up accepting and returning some donations above the legal limit, including Mr. Biden’s, the Trump situation stands out. Records show that Mr. Biden’s campaign committee issued roughly $47,000 in refunds larger than $5,000 after Election Day; Mr. Trump’s campaign issued more than $7 million.
Trump officials attributed the excessive donations to enthusiastic supporters and said the surge in postelection complaints was a result of losing the election, not of the recurring donation tactics.
But for some Trump supporters like Ron Wilson, WinRed is a scam artist. Mr. Wilson, an 87-year-old retiree in Illinois, made a series of small contributions last fall that he thought would add up to about $200; by December, federal records show, WinRed and Mr. Trump’s committees had withdrawn more than 70 separate donations from Mr. Wilson worth roughly $2,300.
“Predatory!” Mr. Wilson said of WinRed. Like multiple other donors interviewed, though, he held Mr. Trump himself blameless, telling The Times, “I’m 100 percent loyal to Donald Trump.”
Now WinRed is exporting the tools it pioneered during the Trump re-election bid across the Republican Party, presaging a new normal for G.O.P. campaigns.
Today, the websites of various Republican Party committees and top congressional Republicans, including Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, and Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, include prechecked yellow boxes for multiple or recurring donations.
It's pretty cool how American conservative thought is dead and its adherents are morons who will gladly be bilked every step of the way. Going forward this will be the new normal for GOP campaigns: sucker people into making recurring donations that may or may not have disastrous consequences because refunding the charge later is basically an interest free loan. Then, if you're popular enough, you can start a PAC where 60% of donations pay off your debt.
Lol it's grifters from top to bottom. Although I wonder if this will continue to the next election cycle. Payment processing is a volume business, and if one tiny player is causing an outsized amount of disputes then WinRed could just be dropped by the major companies.
WILL DO RACISM FOR BEER, CASH
HELP A PATRIOT OUT