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Democratic bill aims to ban prechecked political donation boxes

Fraud complaints have surged from people who hadn't realized they'd signed up to make recurring donations.
Image: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., during a hearing on Capitol Hill on Jan. 27, 2021.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., at a hearing on Capitol Hill on Jan. 27.Sarah Silbiger / Pool via Getty Images file

Senate Democrats introduced legislation Monday to ban political campaigns from prechecking recurring political donation boxes after a number of former President Donald Trump's supporters complained that they'd been duped into contributing more than they'd intended to.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., introduced the measure after the bipartisan Federal Election Commission unanimously recommended this month that campaigns be barred from automatically opting donors into recurring contributions through prechecked boxes in solicitations.

The FEC voted 6-0 after The New York Times reported last month that the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee used the tactic to collect big bucks from small donors in the final months of the 2020 campaign, when numerous supporters who thought they'd made one-time donations were charged for several.

After thousands of people complained, the campaign and the RNC wound up issuing more than 530,000 refunds worth $64.3 million to online donors in the final months of the year, the investigation found. In all, they refunded over $122 million, according to The Times.

Durbin said, "In a bipartisan recommendation, the Federal Election Commission urged Congress to take action to stop donation practices — egregiously employed by the Trump campaign — that tricked contributors into recurring payments." He said the legislation would "prevent future campaigns of any political party from engaging in these deceptive practices by banning the use of convoluted, pre-checked boxes to trigger recurring contributions."

Klobuchar, chair of the Rules Committee, which has oversight of campaign finance law, said: "It's clear we should take action to ban this practice and ensure contributors are fully informed. This legislation will do just that."

The bill would require contributors to consent to recurring charges and require political committees or campaigns to inform donors about how to cancel recurring contributions. Five other Democratic senators are co-sponsoring the bill, but so far no Republicans.

Trump defended the fundraising tactic in a statement after the Times report, maintaining that everything was on the up and up.

"Our fundraising efforts, working together with the Republican party, were all done legally, and all with the goal of ensuring that my Administration could continue to Make America Great Again," Trump said. "In fact, many people were so enthusiastic that they gave over and over, and in certain cases where they would give too much, we would promptly refund their contributions."