'Kid in a candy store': Fundraisers busted for scamming seniors out of millions in campaign donations
CNN screenshot

According to an extensive report by the New YorkTimes, the fundraising arms of both the Republican and the Democratic parties heavily targeted seniors in the last election cycle in an aggressive drive for cash using deceptive practices.

The report, written by Shane Goldmacher, details how fundraisers such as the Republican WinRed and the Democratic ActBlue preyed upon "unsuspecting older people," with the full knowledge that they could just refund the money if they were caught.

According to Goldmacher, "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."

Case in point, William W. Vaughan Jr., 90, a retired senior atmospheric scientist at NASA whose son, Steve, found thousands of dollars in contributions made to Republicans.

"When Steve was sorting through the elder Mr. Vaughan's papers after his death at 90 in December, he was unsettled by what he found on his father's final credit card bill.The first item was familiar: $11.82 at the local Chick-fil-A in Huntsville, Ala. But every other charge on the first page, and there were dozens of them, was to the firm that processes online Republican campaign contributions, WinRed. Over four months last year, Mr. Vaughan had made 400 donations totaling nearly $11,500 — to Donald J. Trump, Mitch McConnell, Tim Scott, Steve Scalise and many others," the report states. "The sum was far beyond the realm of his financial ability, his son said, and sure enough, he soon discovered handwritten notes outlining what appeared to be his father's call disputing the charges with his credit card company. He is still seething at the avalanche of charges and 'what they did to a 90-year-old' just before his death.

The Times report notes that the elderly Vaughan was not alone.

Researching refund data from 2020, the Times discovered millions of dollars were sent back after complaints were filed.

"The findings, which looked at refunds in one large and diverse state, California, showed that the average age of donors who received refunds was almost 66 on WinRed and nearly 65 on ActBlue, the equivalent Democratic processing site. Even more revealing: More than four times as much money was refunded to donors who are 70 and older than to adults under the age of 50 — for both Republicans and Democrat," Goldmacher wrote.

"More than 65,000 unique donors, who were refunded a roughly $25 million combined last election, were matched by name and ZIP code in California. The ages of donors being refunded in both parties were very similar, even as Republican campaigns issued online refunds at more than triple the overall rate of Democrats, records show," he added with Cyrus Krohn, who oversaw digital strategy at the Republican National Committee a decade ago, grudgingly admitting "It's like a kid in a candy store."

According to David Laibson, a behavioral economics professor at Harvard who has studied the impact of aging on financial decision-making,"Who's the perfect target? 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."

Goldmacher adds, "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."

You can read more here.