Understanding the Impact: Decline in Small-Dollar Donations to Trump’s Campaign Raises Concerns

Periodically, Matthew Hurtt receives worrisome emails. The subject lines vary slightly: “Stop charging my account,” “Urgent!” and “Donation not approved,” yet their senders share a common goal: to cease WinRed, the Republican political contribution platform, from making further automatic, recurring withdrawals from their accounts.

Hurtt, chairman of the Virginia-based Arlington County Republican Committee, has encountered “a few dozen” such emails since the 2020 election. According to a statement provided by Hurtt, when WinRed processes a contribution to a Republican campaign, the charge appears on the donor’s financial statement as a payment to “WINRED www.GOP.com, Arlington VA.”

This has led to confusion, as individuals often mistakenly believe their funds were directed to the Arlington County Republican Party.

“Cancel account and stop billing my credit card,” wrote Samie Elliot, an Oklahoma resident, in a January email to Hurtt. She later clarified that neither she nor her retired husband recalled authorizing recurring monthly political donations, which had been debited from their accounts for at least a year.

Trump's 2024 campaign
Trump’s 2024 campaign sees a significant drop in small-dollar contributions.

However, Federal Election Commission records present a contrasting narrative. Campaign finance reports indicate that between 2020 and the end of 2023, WinRed processed $14,300 in political contributions from Samie Elliot and her husband, Orin Elliot.

These contributions seem to consist of small, recurring amounts, precisely the type Elliot claimed not to remember signing up for. Samie Elliot did not respond to requests for comment.

“Every one of them has told me a similar story: elderly, sometimes dementia, and don’t remember donating month after month,” shared Hurtt. “As a county committee chairman who struggles to raise money, it infuriates me,” he added. Retired, small-dollar donors like the Elliots play a crucial role in Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign and the broader Republican Party.

In Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, donations from individuals listing their occupation as “retired” accounted for approximately one-third of the total funds raised, amounting to roughly $255 million, according to OpenSecrets data. For these donors, Trump’s fundraising approach, characterized by apocalyptic, aggrieved, and highly personalized appeals, has been particularly effective.

“Older folks are generally more vulnerable and they’re often more easily taken in” by aggressive political fundraising appeals, noted Saurav Ghosh, director of federal campaign finance reform at the nonprofit watchdog Campaign Legal Center. The organization filed an ethics complaint against WinRed in 2022.

“Today, five years after WinRed was founded and quickly rose to become the dominant digital fundraising platform for Republican candidates, these same donors whose recurring monthly contributions fueled Trump’s last presidential campaign do not appear to be giving at the same rate, or in the same quantity,” the article stated.

Fundraising
Aggressive fundraising tactics prompt lawsuits against WinRed, reflecting challenges in digital political fundraising.

Despite its success, WinRed has faced numerous lawsuits since its inception in 2019, questioning the aggressive fundraising tactics employed by Republicans. While both ActBlue and Democrats have encountered similar criticisms, their refund rates have often been significantly lower than those of their Republican counterparts.

During the 2020 presidential election, Trump’s political operation, in conjunction with the Republican Party, refunded just over 10% of every dollar raised through WinRed, a rate more than four times higher than that of President Joe Biden’s campaign and affiliated entities at that time, according to The New York Times.

In 2019, Trump’s campaign committee collected $72 million in donations of $200 or less, representing a portion of the more than $378 million raised from small-dollar donors between Trump’s 2017 reelection filing and the end of 2020, according to OpenSecrets data. However, from November 2022 through the end of last year, Trump’s presidential campaign garnered only $27 million in such donations, marking a 62.5% drop from the year before the 2020 election to the year before the 2024 election.

A spokesperson for the Trump campaign highlighted external support received during Trump’s presidency, including assistance from the Republican National Committee, and noted ongoing support from small-dollar donors.

“Despite facing a crowded primary field in this election cycle, President Trump continues to raise millions more from small-dollar donors than all his primary opponents and Joe Biden, which serves as a powerful testament to his unprecedented and unwavering support from the American people,” the spokesperson stated.

Several factors likely contributed to the decline in Trump’s small-dollar donations, including increased competition in the 2024 primary, changes in fundraising arrangements, and potential donor fatigue.

“We are being charged for something that we did NOT consent to purchase!!!! This needs an immediate response!!!!,” read one email from a frustrated donor to the Arlington Republican committee.

Despite ongoing fundraising efforts marked by dire warnings and repeated solicitations, Trump and WinRed’s aggressive approach may no longer yield the same results.

“Trump’s donors have continued to give, even despite the misleading fundraising appeals, the donor dollars paying for Trump’s legal costs, and the countless millions flowing to Trump properties and family members,” observed Brendan Fischer, deputy executive director of campaign finance watchdog Documented.

“Have donors finally had enough? Perhaps.”

Sajda Parveen
Sajda Parveen
Sajda Praveen is a market expert. She has over 6 years of experience in the field and she shares her expertise with readers. You can reach out to her at [email protected]
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