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Facebook Reviewing Scammy Fundraising Tactic Used By Trump, NRCC, Others

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April 9, 2021
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Facebook is reviewing company policies surrounding a kind of deceptive fundraising practices employed by former President Trump’s 2020 campaign, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), and others, according to a statement provided to The Bulwark.

The New York Times reported last weekend that the Trump campaign had to return over $100 million in donations from supporters who were duped by bunco fundraising language that, among other things, made recurring donations the default setting for supporters lured by the campaign’s conspiracy-laden pitches. And, as we outlined earlier this week, the NRCC continues to use similar practices—the most outlandish of which is the threat “to tell Trump” that anyone who unchecks a box committing to monthly donations in perpetuity is “a DEFECTOR & sided with the Dems.”

This fundraising tactic is used by the NRCC in emails, text messages, and paid advertisements on such digital platforms as Facebook.

Now comes word that Facebook, which bans pre-checked boxes for advertisers promoting subscription services, is evaluating the policy as it relates to political campaigns.

“We’re taking a close look at how this fundraising practice is used on our platform to ensure our policies are in the right place,” said Facebook spokesman Andy Stone.

Facebook noted that it was not just the NRCC that uses the pre-checked box for recurring donations on their landing page, but that other party committees and nonprofits do so as well. This comparison echoed the everybody-does-it defense put forth by WinRed, the vendor that the Trump campaign and the NRCC use for digital fundraising:

Let’s take a closer look at this comparison between NRCC’s tactics and those of the “Democrats and ActBlue.” In a superficial sense, yes, both send users to sites with pre-checked boxes for recurring donations. But any objective observer would come to the conclusion that the Trump campaign and the NRCC are pushing the tactic to a grifty extent that far exceeds their peers.

As the Times pointed out, the Trump campaign issued a staggering number—more than 530,000—of refunds to donors who had been duped by their recurring-donation scheme in the final two and a half months of 2020. By comparison, the Biden campaign issued just 37,000 refunds during the same time period, just 7 percent of the GOP total.

The disparity in the language on the two parties’ fundraising landing pages could not be more stark.

After clicking on an NRCC Facebook ad, you are taken to a page with two boxes that a donor needs to uncheck to not be billed. The first uses the threat of tattling to Mr. Trump that the donor is a DEFECTOR in big bold letters, with the words “make this a monthly donation” in smaller font, disconnected from the uncheck language. Then a second pre-checked box which offers Republican agitprop in big bold letters followed by a notice in smaller, unbolded font that their donation would be doubled.

Meanwhile, the DCCC lands you on a page that has “Make It Monthly!” plainly written with two boxes underneath it. The first, pre-checked, is “Yes, count me in.” The second is “No, donate once.”

Look for yourself—here are the two pages:

If you are not actively on the take from WinRed or a trolling partisan, it’s quite clear that the NRCC is going out of its way to be deceptive and manipulative while its Democratic counterpart is not.

This is apparently the nature of the norm-busting Trump GOP: It will take every possible advantage, no matter how scummy, even if it means hurting its own supporters—even the credulous elderly, living on fixed incomes.

So it will be up to others to create rules that limit the GOP’s ability to inflict damage in this way.

The ball is in Facebook’s court to do just that.

Jim Swift and Tim Miller

Jim Swift is a Bulwark senior editor and Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large.