- Politicians love promising they’ll double or triple your campaign contribution.
- But most of these gimmicks are demonstrably false.
- The DOJ recently indicated it was paying close attention to bogus political fundraising techniques.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Former President Donald Trump loves promising to match your political contributions.
“President Trump is calling on YOU to bolster our Official Defend America Fund,” his campaign committee wrote the afternoon of January 6, just as pro-Trump supporters were beginning to storm the US Capitol. “For the NEXT HOUR: you can INCREASE your impact by 1000%.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi loves promising the same.
“Will you rush $1 before midnight to show Kevin McCarthy, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and their Republican allies that our Democrats will never — NEVER — let them take our Democratic House?” Pelosi wrote Wednesday on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “This is so critical, every gift will be 3X-matched.
But this wildly popular — and demonstrably bogus — fundraising gimmick could soon be dead.
That’s because the Department of Justice on Monday indicated that fraudulent “match” solicitations were one of several misdeeds that factored into a political scam artist’s guilty plea Monday on one count of wire fraud. The man, James Kyle Bell of Las Vegas, now faces up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine.
“The solicitations promised that individual donations would be ‘5x matched’ by Bell’s PACs. … However, none of the individual donations was ever ‘5x matched’ by Bell or anyone else,” the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia wrote in announcing the guilty plea.
Two former leaders of the Federal Election Commission told Insider that political candidates and committees should now proceed with great caution when wooing prospective donors with “match” promotions.
“Objectively false representations in fundraising solicitations, made to induce contributions, are a legal problem,” said Lee Goodman, a former Republican chairman of the FEC who’s now a partner at law firm Wiley Rein LLP. “The most recent case should be a wake-up call for political fundraisers.”
Ann Ravel, a former Democratic chairwoman of the FEC who’s now an attorney at the law firm McManis Faulkner, agreed that the DOJ’s mention of the “5x match” was conspicuous.
“The fact that it was an element of this case should be a warning to campaigns that if they use this as an enticement to donate, they need to be absolutely sure that they are in fact matching the contributions — or the request could be considered fraudulent,” said Ravel, who also served at DOJ during the Obama administration as deputy assistant attorney general for torts and consumer litigation.
The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment.
Nor did any of several political committees that frequently use fundraising-match ploys, including Trump’s political operation, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the DCCC, and End Citizens United, which supports Democrats who want to more strictly regulate campaign money.
Why your money isn’t really matched
Most candidate or PAC fundraising pitches promising your $100 contribution will magically turn into $500 are lies.
There are two practical reasons for this.
First, if deep-pocketed donors were truly tripling or quintupling every contribution donors made, they’d quickly exceed federal campaign-contribution limits and trigger investigations by federal regulators. This rarely, if ever, happens.
Second, an Insider analysis of Federal Election Commission data offered no evidence that political committees advertising donation matches ever matched donations.
Meanwhile, most match-peddling political committees never explain how they’ll match (or quadruple match) your money. This is unlike fundraising appeals you might receive from, say, a nonprofit organization or public radio station, where a board member or wealthy benefactor is quite literally matching other donations dollar for dollar to incentivize support.
So laughable are some of these political fundraising pitches that Joe Biden’s presidential campaign once attempted to raise money by mocking them — specifically, Trump’s “crazy, misleading fundraising appeals” that include promises of contribution matches.
“8X-MATCH? Does anyone really believe this?” Biden’s campaign emailed supporters in September. “Instead of lying and promising you that someone else is going to 8X-match your donation, we’re asking you to 8X-match your donation yourself!”
‘Because it works’
Why do political committees use these match gimmicks in the first place?
“Because it works,” one national GOP strategist told Insider. “You typically see a higher return, a better return on an email that does this.”
But henceforth, political committees should use this technique with great caution, several election-law and political attorneys said.
“The Department of Justice has made it clear that they consider false matching language to be a material misrepresentation to donors. That’s something committees should not take lightly,” said Danielle Caputo, the legislative and programs counsel for Issue One, a bipartisan organization that advocates for stricter campaign laws.
“It probably is the end of the ‘5x match’ for regular PACs and campaign committees that are subject to dollar limits on contributions,” said Brett Kappel, an election-law attorney for the law firm Harmon, Curran, Spielberg & Eisenberg LLP.
“I would expect to see a shift to more modest pitches, like, ‘The next 100 contributions of up to $25 will be matched by a generous donor,'” he added. “These committees will also be well advised to document that they fulfilled these promises.”
Added Rick Hasen, a University of California, Irvine, law professor and editor of the Election Law Blog: “One could hope that DOJ’s attitude will cause campaigns to abandon this deceptive tactic, but the temptation to use it must be great or we wouldn’t see its use so frequently.”
When Pelosi blasted a fundraising appeal to supporters Wednesday afternoon on behalf of the DCCC, she offered to “3x-match” contributions.
But later that afternoon, a fundraising email from her own campaign committee offered no such match and simply asked supporters to make a contribution.