It’s tough out there being a Donald Trump supporter. He makes you and your fascist compatriots chant “toilet” at plague rallies, then he leaves thousands of you freezing in the cold with no way to return to the parking lot. He tells you to try and overthrow the U.S. government then gets stingy with the pardons. Then his website starts charging your bank account on a recurring basis by default, even though you only intended to donate to democracy’s downfall once.
Business Insider first reported on Thursday that the donation page on Donald Trump’s website for his “Save America” political action committee (PAC) is trying to pull a fast one over on his supporters. The leadership PAC’s donation page automatically ticks two boxes that might go unnoticed while a user is trying to send Trump cash. The first reads, “Submit your name on the Official Founding Member Donor List by making this a monthly contribution!” The second box prompts users who send donations to help “surprise” the former president with a “RECORD BREAKING FUNDRAISING DAY” on his birthday on June 14 by donating the same amount again on that date.
Neglecting to uncheck these boxes would triple the amount Trump is able to debit a supporter’s bank account or payment card over the next month. For example, a user who sent in $500 today (June 10) without reading the fine print would be billed $500 again on June 15 and $500 again on July 10, as well as the 10th of every month after that.
This is a method that falls under the category of “dark patterns,” a broad umbrella of various technical and UI tricks that website and app operators use to mislead users into authorizing unforeseen or recurring charges, hand over personal data, sign up for contact lists, or any number of other things. Dark patterns are used by everyone from Amazon (making it difficult to stop a Prime subscription) to mobile game developers (making it as easy as possible to keep buying jewels). In this case, the pre-clicked boxes and the “wish Trump a happy birthday” banalities of the text make it easy to miss that the additional donations are opt-out, not opt-in.
Anyone who has signed up to a mailing list or even just visited the website of a campaign candidate, political party, PAC, or nonprofit knows that they’ll be hit up for cash—that’s just the nature of the beast. It’s not particularly unusual for them to be annoyingly thirsty, spamming mail, email, and phone lists with frustrating regularity. But Trump’s operation is particularly aggressive even by those standards. Throughout the month of May, according to the Independent, Trump supporters received at least one text a day asking for donations to the “Trump Make America Great Again Committee.” That organization splits funds with the Republican National Committee (RNC), Trump’s Save America PAC, and Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign (which ended 2020 with nearly $10.75 million cash on hand and over $2.7 million in debt, half of it owed to a shell company operated by Trump campaign officials).
Despite a disastrous one-term presidency that ended with a devastating pandemic, two impeachment trials, and a failed coup on Jan. 6 that resulted in multiple deaths, Trump has signaled he intends to run for office again in 2024 and isn’t skipping a beat using that as an excuse to gobble up as many donations as possible. Save America PAC was created the day after Trump lost the 2020 elections and raised over $31.2 million by the end of the year, mainly billing itself as a vehicle to fund his long-shot, failed bid to overturn the election results via a series of failed lawsuits (and eventually, the attempted insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6 that resulted in multiple deaths).
One likely reason Trump’s team is boosting the PAC, in particular, according to Business Insider, is because it is under no obligation to share funds with the RNC, which distributes funds to Republican congressional candidates. The logic goes that if Trump is able to starve the RNC of funds while building his own war chest, that places him to maintain his considerable leverage over the Republican Party as an institution. That has the additional benefit of ensuring that the funds remain entirely under his control, with little in the way stopping him from dipping into them personally.
The Independent reported Save America PAC’s most recent Federal Election Commission filings showed it has at least $85 million in cash. Although it’s not able to fund Trump’s anticipated 2024 bid directly or pay down remaining debts from his 2020 campaign, both CNN and Business Insider reported Trump could use the funds to pay for himself and allies to host and travel to pro-Trump rallies across the country, pay himself or family members salaries, or throw events at Trump-owned or operated facilities where revenue would flow into his own pockets. This would be entirely legal, Common Cause vice president of policy and litigation Paul Ryan told CNN.