As the Republican National Committee ramps up its fundraising operation for the midterm elections, the GOP group is reviving some of its shadiest tactics—and taking them a step further.
Just this week, the RNC sent out text messages and emails to Republican supporters alerting them that their “payment status” was “incomplete,” seeming to masquerade a fundraising request as an unpaid bill. And emails on Monday from the RNC draw on the same theme, using the words “FINAL NOTICE” in the header to implore donors to activate a “lifetime membership.”
The RNC doesn’t bother explaining what a “lifetime membership” actually means.
Other solicitations claim that a “250% impact offer” is “exclusive to YOU,” while not clarifying what an “impact offer” is, or explaining how the implied 250 percent matching donation would be paid. (That ploy, which Democrats also routinely use, is reportedly under Justice Department review.) And other emails falsely suggest that contributions to the RNC will support Trump’s recent lawsuit against social media companies, even though the RNC plays no role in that litigation.
“Taken all together, these are the kinds of predatory tactics you only see in the scammiest models,” Jordan Libowitz, the communications director for government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said.
The general idea behind having public donors in the first place, Libowitz said, is freedom of speech. “But that’s about the right to express your political views, as opposed to being tricked into doing it, which is in some places illegal,” he sadded. “What we’re seeing here comes pretty close to that.”
An RNC spokesperson did not reply to The Daily Beast’s questions for this article.
The tactics are an extension of dubious fundraising schemes Republicans deployed in 2020, both before and after the election. In late December, Trump pushed out an email similar to the RNC’s recent “payment status incomplete” blasts. And while those fundraising efforts drew widespread criticism for misleading donors on a number of fronts, they proved lucrative, pulling in half a billion dollars between mid-October and the end of November.
“Taken all together, these are the kinds of predatory tactics you only see in the scammiest models”
— Jordan Libowitz, communications director for government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
This spring, journalists dissected those tactics—specifically the pre-selected option to make donations recur monthly. That practice is now reportedly under investigation in at least four states. And even though Democrats also employ recurring donations—albeit to a lesser extent—their boxes don’t come pre-checked. Users have to actively select that option, rather than unselecting the default option for Republicans.
Additionally, the process of opting out of the fundraising emails is difficult to navigate.
“Since donors tend to be older and maybe less fluent with the internet, or can’t see the fine print on their phone, these kinds of tricks seem intended to wring as much money out of a supporter as possible, regardless of that person’s intent,” Libowitz said.
If donors try to opt out of recurring contributions on the RNC’s page, they’re hit with a full-page pop-up graphic begging them to reconsider, lest they please “the radical left.”
“WAIT!” the pop-up reads, over a field of red sirens. Smaller print says, “The Radical Left is so happy that you unchecked that box. Don’t give them what they want!”
After the 2020 fundraising onslaught, the GOP wrangled with an identity crisis cleaved by the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol. Party leaders even signaled an openness to putting distance themselves from Trump. In response, the ex-president sent cease-and-desist notices to official Republican fundraising arms, demanding they stop using his name and likeness.
That gap quickly closed, however, as Trump assembled a sprawling fundraising apparatus designed to suffocate internal dissent. Months later, his name and face were once again plastered on RNC emails.
These new RNC tactics echo charges in a recent federal conviction of a scam PAC operator, according to Paul Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause, a campaign finance reform advocacy group.
“The Justice Department noted in the charging document that the lies in the PAC’s fundraising emails constituted ‘material misrepresentations’ that misled potential donors,” Ryan told The Daily Beast. “The RNC is on notice that telling lies in fundraising emails can expose them to criminal prosecution for fraud.”
“The RNC is on notice that telling lies in fundraising emails can expose them to criminal prosecution for fraud.”
— Paul Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause
Today, however, Trump is a plaintiff, leading a class-action lawsuit against social media companies. And four recent RNC emails—sent July 7, 8, 9, and 12—suggest donor money will go to support that effort.
“Please contribute ANY AMOUNT RIGHT NOW to show your support for President Trump’s lawsuit against Big Tech,” three of the emails said.
Neither the RNC nor Trump’s political committees have official connections to that lawsuit, and would be barred by law from lending their financial support.
The Daily Beast reviewed recent Democratic solicitations connected to President Joe Biden. While less aggressive and less frequent, those emails also include apparently non-existent deadlines and attempt to guilt prospective donors into coughing up cash.
One recent Biden email, under the subject line “I’m asking,” told prospective donors, “I don’t see your name on the list” to support Demoratic grassroots voting rights efforts. Another email, titled “Your supporter record,” includes a mock-up membership card calling attention to the fact that the recipient hasn’t donated.
But where RNC emails often ask supporters to make $45 contributions in support of the 45th president—though occasionally they will ask for $5—the Biden emails consistently pitched recipients on $7 gifts. Again, the recurring donation option also wasn’t pre-checked.
If someone on an RNC mailing list wanted to escape the barrage of emails—four on Tuesday alone—the group makes that difficult, too.
The opt-out link takes respondents to a mandatory questionnaire, with the “No, I have changed my mind” box pre-checked. A later question asks which email “setting” they prefer, but the only options are “all” or “fewer”—not “none.”
Respondents must choose one option in order to submit the request. “Send me all emails” is pre-checked.