To imply that I am not exactly shocked is not to suggest that what the story—that headline is from the New York Times—described isn’t just as wrong as it would be if the news sent me to a cardiac ward.
But read on…
What the story describes is this…
….Facing a cash crunch and getting badly outspent by the Democrats, the [Trump] campaign had begun last September to set up recurring donations by default for online donors, for every week until the election.
Contributors had to wade through a fine-print disclaimer and manually uncheck a box to opt out.
As the election neared, the Trump team made that disclaimer increasingly opaque, an investigation by The New York Times showed. It introduced a second prechecked box, known internally as a “money bomb,” that doubled a person’s contribution. Eventually its solicitations featured lines of text in bold and capital letters that overwhelmed the opt-out language.
The tactic ensnared scores of unsuspecting Trump loyalists — retirees, military veterans, nurses and even experienced political operatives. Soon, banks and credit card companies were inundated with fraud complaints from the president’s own supporters about donations they had not intended to make, sometimes for thousands of dollars.
….In the final two and a half months of 2020, the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and their shared accounts issued more than 530,000 refunds worth $64.3 million to online donors.
- Ah, the old automatically checked box fundraiser’s trick! Brings back memories! I worked as a professional fundraiser for Georgetown Law Center, and I met my wife-to-be, who was the foundation and corporate development officer for the whole university, while learning the ropes of the fundraising game. I don’t know if Georgetown uses the automatically checked box now, but other non-profit organizations I worked for did, notably the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. There was an automatic donation to the organization that members had to uncheck to avoid giving a hundred bucks when they re-upped for membership. Membership wasn’t my area at ATLA, but I was blowing ethics whistles even back then: I told the members that the trick was deceptive and unconscionable. The excuses and rationalizations I got—these were all lawyers, in some cases famous lawyers—was first and foremost, that it worked. Indeed it did: the box usually went unnoticed, especially since research showed that most members had their annual membership bill paid by secretaries and never actually read what they were signing. Every year, the trick brought in millions of dollars, which the association needed, since its membership was falling. (That was rationalization #2.) Another was that “everybody did it”—well, not everybody, but a lot of associations and charities, including those with unassailable missions, like animal rescue groups and cancer research charities. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”! The leadership of the association told me that requiring an opt-in rather than a small print opt-out would cost ATLA an annual fortune. And that their members could afford an accidental gift of a hundred dollars. “So what?” I replied, in the diplomatic fashion that partially explains why I am now self-employed. What kind of organization scams it’s own members?”
- What kind indeed. Later I found that the pre-checked box was a standard tool in the organizational fundraiser’s tool box. In the non-profits, including my professional theater company, where I had enough authority to do so, I made sure that such donations were only opt-ins. Still, the device is legal, as was the Trump campaign’s use of it, though the multiplying gift trick is unusually aggressive—legal, but deliberate deception, and unethical as hell.
- Why am I not shocked? Donald Trump has no ethics; I think I established that many years ago. The people he has hired usually have less-than-sterling ethics as well. Both parties lie and exaggerate on their fundraising appeals to a nauseating extent, and target gullible, lazy, fools, and these appeals are authored by professional fundraisers who are deemed successful according to how much money they raise, not by the principles of honesty, respect and fairness they grind into dust by doing it. If organizations that save whales, cure AIDS and send money to Africa tolerate this unethical technique, why would I expect a political organization, especially one working for Donald Trump, to do otherwise?
- There is no justifiable excuse for what the campaign did, but the one I would be most sympathetic to is this: the campaign was being starved of cash by unethical tactics by the AUC, “the Axis of Unethical Conduct.” By September, the pubic was being told daily in polls after poll that any money donated to the President was a lost cause: Biden’s election was a lock. At the same time, the narrative in the news media and Democrats was that Trump was responsible for the pandemic, even that more than 300,000 dead Americans would have been alive had he not botched the national response to China’s gift to the world. This was also an unethical strategy, and no rationalizations are more powerful than the set that argues, “We have no choice!” and “They made us do it!”
- For once, a front page anti-Trump story is justifiably being trumpeted at the Times, but the paper still can’t play it straight. It’s wording attribute the deception to Donald Trump, and while he is certainly accountable for what his organizations do in his name, I very much doubt that he was involved in the decision to use this hoary tactic. Some publications, though not most, are playing it straight and attributing the device to the Trump campaign. But why expect the news media to start being honest and fair now?
- Newsworthy as it is, the disinformation campaign being employed by President Biden and Democrats to spark a corporate boycott against Georgia for its voting reforms are both more important, more dangerous to the nation and more consequential: baseball pulling the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta is projected to cost the area up to $100,000,000. I haven’t seen equivalent outrage from the Times over that, and I should.