Monthly sustainers and recurring donations in other forms have become a popular fundraising tactic in recent years. It’s common for fundraising solicitations to include a lightbox or similar tools on websites, encouraging donors to turn their one-time gift into a recurring donation, automatically debiting a checking account or credit card each month. In those cases, donors must actively choose to check a box to become monthly donors.
Four state attorneys general, however, have raised questions about whether donors to political campaign committees in last year’s presidential election unwittingly made their gifts into recurring donations. A source familiar with the matter confirmed that attorneys general for Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota and New York recently sent letters of inquiry to the platforms WinRed and ActBlue.
ActBlue and WinRed both employed pre-checked boxes in online donation forms, automatically opting donors into recurring donations. According to a New York Times investigation earlier this year, the Trump campaign refunded $122 million, more than 10% of what it raised last year via WinRed. The Biden campaign refunded 2.2%, about $21 million, of the online donations raised on ActBlue. WinRed is a for-profit donation service. ActBlue is a nonprofit.
In a statement on its website, WinRed said federal law governs activities of federal political committees and accused the AGs of “exploiting their positions of power for partisan gain.” Less than 1% of Trump campaign donations were subject of a credit card dispute, according to a statement by WinRed in response to The New York Times story in April.
WinRed filed a complaint against all four AGs for “declaratory relief” in federal district court in Minnesota, asking the court to confirm that the Federal Election Campaign Act preempts state law with respect to its application to WinRed’s activities. ActBlue did not reply to an email message seeking comment by presstime.