Blue America just sent out a fund-raising letter to our members this morning, informing them of the newest gambit by the establishment status quo-supporting congressional tricksters. If you're not a member, you can read the letter here. We've been doing this since 2005 and early on, before the DCCC knew what digital fundraising was about-- and before I understood the depth of the DCCC's perfidy-- they flew me to Washington to show them how to do it. I wish I had never done so, but it doesn't really matter because they quickly relegated everything I told them about the ethics of online fundraising to the dustbin. Note the differences in the Blue America letter and the report Shane Goldmacher reported about the way the establishment groups do their fundraising in yesterday's NY Times.
The Republicans, of course, are much worse. But the Democrats aren't as concerned about an ethical approach either. Both parties, for example, think targeting the elderly as easy touches is a good way to raise money. WinRed, the Republican operation that aspires to be the right's version of ActBlue, is basically a criminal scam operation designed to cheat people and steal their money. They should be closed down and their executives should be prosecuted.
"The dirty little secret of online political fund-raising," wrote Shanemacher, "is that the most aggressive and pernicious practices that campaigns use to raise money are especially likely to ensnare unsuspecting older people, according to interviews with digital strategists and an examination of federal donation and refund data. Older Americans are critical campaign contributors, both online and offline. More than half of all the online contributions processed by WinRed in the last cycle, 56 percent, came from people who listed their occupation as “retired,” federal records show. Digital operatives in both parties deploy an array of manipulative tactics that can deceive donors of all age groups: faux bill notices and official-looking correspondence; bogus offers to match donations and hidden links to unsubscribe; and prechecked boxes that automatically repeat donations, which are widely seen as the most egregious scheme."
This is exactly the kind of shenanigans Blue America has never participated in-- and that I warned the DCCC not to participate in and that I urged ActBlue to steer clear of. "But," continued Goldmacher, "some groups appear to specifically target older internet users, blasting out messages with subject lines like 'Social Security' that have particular resonance for older people, and spending disproportionately on ads for an older audience. In many cases, the most unscrupulous tactics of direct mail have simply been rebooted for the digital age-- with ruthless new precision."
“Everybody knows what they’re doing: They’re scamming seniors to line their own pockets and to raise money for campaigns,” said Mike Nellis, a Democratic digital strategist who is critical of deceptive practices.
“You are targeting people who are less savvy online, who are more likely to believe what’s put in front of them,” Mr. Nellis said, lamenting tactics that “erase people’s humanity.”
Disputed credit card claims often result in refunds and a NY Times study of California donors found that "Republican campaigns issued online refunds at more than triple the overall rate of Democrats." I suspect that just a small proportion of contributors ever complain to their credit card companies and get the refunds from these online predators. Goldmacher wrote how "a Times investigation earlier this year revealed how the Trump operation had made donations automatically recur weekly, and had obscured that fact with extraneous text, causing a multimillion-dollar cascade of refunds and a surge of fraud complaints. Multiple banking officials said the flood of complaints against Trump’s operation came heavily from older donors. One fraud investigator recalled the case of an 88-year-old who worried that her family would presume she was developing dementia because the repeat charges had blown past her credit card limit."
I remember a time, early on, when I think Blue America was the first online political operation offering to match contributions. The difference between the scammers from the WinRed predators as well as groups like the DSCC and DCCC is that we actually were matching, not pretending to match. I remember during one live on-line fundraiser, one of my partners challenged me to match $1,000 with her (so $2,000) for a collective raise of $2,000 for our candidate. I wasn't comfortable giving that much but I was too embarrassed to say no, especially with the candidate right there being interviewed by me live. I agreed and we raised the $2,000 and a thousand dollars came out of my personal bank account. Our candidate won, is still in Congress and has been sending me a nice Christmas card every year for over a decade.
Yesterday, we looked at why Democrats in Congress should retire more frequently. For his report, Shanemacher spoke with Daniel Marson, a clinical neuropsychologist who has studied financial decision-making among aging Americans. Maison told him that "older people face a double whammy online when combining their generational lack of familiarity with technology and age-related cognitive declines. The brain itself starts to shift with age, Dr. Marson and other neurological experts said. Processing typically begins to slow. Keeping track of multiple things is harder. Evaluating trustworthiness becomes more of a struggle. 'They just don’t have the same digital literacy or capacity to engage in an internet world,' said Dr. Marson, the former director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Certainly, millions of aging Americans are still adroit with technology and some don’t decline cognitively until a very advanced age. But even the kinds of silly deceptions that millennials and digital natives might roll their eyes at-- like stress-inducing donation countdown clocks-- can more easily distract or confuse many retirees who adopted computers later in life."
Some campaigns use subject lines like 'Final Notice #33716980”-- which the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently deployed-- that can make it appear as if actual bills are at risk of defaulting. Some use breathless exaggerations, like a recent text from the House Republican campaign arm, which warned it would “lose the House for good!” if everyone did not contribute $9 by midnight.
Many older people interpret personalized messages literally.
Tatenda Musapatike, a Democratic digital strategist, recalled having to explain to some older family members that Joe Biden was not in fact the person sending them an email asking for money.
“It’s not naïve or foolish,” she said. “It’s from people being less online.”
The daughter of one 69-year-old donor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to safeguard her father’s wishes to remain private, described a call from her mother last year asking her to intervene in his excessive online contributions. “Mom came to me and said, ‘Dad donated $25,000,’” the woman said. Records show he made hundreds of donations via WinRed to a variety of Republican campaigns.
“He’s taking what they say as truth,” she said, adding that he has begun exhibiting early symptoms of mental decline and insists he has not donated as much as he actually has.
While she has unsubscribed him from as many email and text lists as she can, she remains worried. “I can’t watch him 24 hours a day,” she said.
David Laibson, a behavioral economics professor at Harvard who has studied the impact of aging on financial decision-making, said studies showed that half of people in their 80s or older have either some cognitive impairment short of dementia or actual dementia.
“Who’s the perfect target?” he said. “They’re in their early 80s, they have a very substantial likelihood of cognitive impairment, and they probably still haven’t depleted their retirement nest egg.”
...Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, the chairwoman of the Rules Committee, which oversees federal elections administration, noted that many older Americans were particularly isolated during the coronavirus pandemic, and were simultaneously forced to be online more to connect with family and friends. “They had no choice,” she said, “so it is really easy to target them.”
Klobuchar, a Democrat, recently introduced legislation to ban prechecked boxes that repeat donations after the Federal Election Commission unanimously recommended outlawing the practice in the wake of the Times investigation.
“Politicians are always courting the votes of seniors,” she said. “Then, behind their backs, they’re scamming them for money. It’s pretty bad.”
Some younger donors who are less internet-savvy also donated more than they intended.
Marian DeSimone, the mother of Daisy DeSimone, who has a developmental disability, said her 30-year-old daughter was entrapped in a Republican recurring donation vortex last year that involved hundreds of small contributions totaling $2,700, about 85 percent of which went to two Trump committees.
In a joint interview with her mother, Daisy said she contributed more than she intended, “by a lot,” and felt “frustrated” by her experience. She was most impassioned about the overwhelming volume of solicitations: “They would keep coming back to me, they would keep emailing me and texting me.”
When her mother logged into her account to try to delete her from various lists, she discovered that the “unsubscribe” link from the Republican National Committee was in plain text. Unlike every other link, it was neither bold nor blue nor underlined. You had to hover above to see that it was a link at all.
“Shameful!” she thought. At first, she had blamed her daughter for the deluge of donations. Now she sees her as a victim.
Overall, Republican campaigns issued refunds at far higher rates (7.4 percent of WinRed contributions) than Democratic ones (2.3 percent on ActBlue) in the 2020 election, a gap driven chiefly by Mr. Trump’s prechecked boxes scheme.
We've covered Democratic scammers, Mothership here at DWT for nearly a decade. These former DCCC employees come up with names that appeal to Democrats like End Citizens United, Stop Republicans and the Progressive Turnout Project and then use the same kinds of filthy tricks the Republicans use to cheat contributors.
Today, most leading Republican groups deploy prechecked recurring boxes and other aggressive tactics, but in Democratic circles a debate is raging about the ethics of online solicitations. There are two clear camps: those who rose through the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s House fund-raising arm, and its highly aggressive program, including Mothership Strategies, and those more aligned with the presidential campaigns of Senator Bernie Sanders.
The D.C.C.C.’s operation is one of the few Democratic groups that continue to use the prechecked boxes. It has also experimented with another processing platform while ActBlue moves to block the practice entirely. In June, one fund-raising pitch came from a sender listed as “SOCIAL SECURITY UPDATE (via DCCC)”-- though on platforms like Gmail, the D.C.C.C. part was cut off unless people clicked through.
Murshed Zaheed, a veteran Democratic digital consultant, is among those pushing for what he calls “ethical email,” which he defined as not deceiving supporters.
“I cannot tell you how much I hate the words ‘email list,’” he said. He said the phrase “dehumanizes” people and treats them “as A.T.M. machines.”
To add insult to injury, it turns out that the WinRed predators also charge a hefty fee to refund money they've been caught stealing! I wonder when the DCCC will pick up on that tactic! None of this was ever a "debate" for Blue America. We know what predatory practices are-- and we automatically steer clear of them. I hope Goldmacher decides to cover the practice of selling e-mail addresses of their contributors to other groups as well, another revolting unethical practice by both parties.