The political arm of House Republicans is deploying a prechecked box to enroll donors into repeating monthly donations — and using ominous language to warn them of the consequences if they opt out: “If you UNCHECK this box, we will have to tell Trump you’re a DEFECTOR.”
The language appears to be an effort by the National Republican Congressional Committee to increase its volume of recurring donations, which are highly lucrative, while invoking former President Donald Trump’s popularity with the conservative base. Donors who do not proactively uncheck the box will have their credit cards billed or bank accounts deducted for donations every month.
The prechecked box is the same tactic and tool that resulted in a surge of refunds and credit card complaints when used by Trump’s campaign last year, according to an investigation published by The New York Times this past weekend. The Trump operation made the language inside its prechecked boxes increasingly opaque as the election neared. Consumer advocates and user-interface designers said the prechecked boxes were a “dark pattern” intended to deceive Trump’s supporters.
The Trump operation issued more than $122 million in refunds in the 2020 cycle, which was 10.7% of what Trump’s campaign, the Republican National Committee and their shared accounts raised. Refunds increased as the campaign began prechecking the boxes, which at one point withdrew donations every week and introduced a “money bomb” that doubled a contribution.
After the Times investigation, the RNC, the party’s central organization, adjusted the language on its donation portal, which is linked to in its fundraising emails and from its homepage, to make it clearer that repeat donations would be withdrawn.
“Keep this box checked to make this a monthly recurring donation,” says the new language in bold.
The box remains prechecked, and the RNC declined to comment on the change.
Michael McAdams, a spokesperson for the NRCC, said the committee “employs the same standards that are accepted and utilized by Democrats and Republicans across the digital fundraising ecosystem.”
The prechecked box is a tool provided by WinRed, the for-profit Republican donation platform founded in 2019. The Democratic platform, ActBlue, also allows some groups to precheck recurring donation boxes, including the political arm of House Democrats, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The Bulwark, an anti-Trump conservative news site, first reported a different version of a prechecked box that the NRCC was using on Wednesday, which said: “Check this box if you want Trump to run again. Uncheck this box if you do NOT stand with Trump.”
Political parties and campaigns typically test multiple language options to see which net the most donors. The “DEFECTOR” warning appears on the donation page linked from the NRCC’s homepage.
It seems highly unlikely any such list of defectors would actually be presented to Trump. Last month, Trump sent a cease-and-desist letter to the NRCC and other Republican Party committees warning them not to use his name or likeness to raise money.
The language on the NRCC’s donation portal appears relatively new, although the prechecked box has been there before, according to records preserved by the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.
In March, the recurring box read, “Trump said he’ll run for President if we win back the House! If every Patriot makes their donation monthly, Republicans WIN.”
Trump has not said that.