Klobuchar to Propose Ban on Prechecked Boxes in Political Donations

The chair of the Senate Rules Committee, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, is set to introduce legislation on Monday to ban political campaigns from guiding online donors into recurring donations by default, a practice that has drawn criticism for luring supporters into making unintended gifts that sometimes total in the thousands of dollars.

The bill’s planned introduction follows a bipartisan recommendation from the Federal Election Commission that Congress act to rein in the practice of prechecking boxes that automatically enlist donors into making repeated donations. The F.E.C. voted unanimously, 6-0, to recommend the change, after a New York Times investigation into the practice showed it led to a surge of refunds and fraud claims from contributors to former President Donald J. Trump.

Ms. Klobuchar, who leads the rules committee that oversees the administration of federal elections, is calling the bill the RECUR Act for “Rescuing Every Contributor from Unwanted Recurrences.” For now, she has only Democratic co-sponsors, including Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who is the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate leadership and the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But Ms. Klobuchar said she was hopeful that she could lure Republican co-sponsors after the F.E.C.’s three Republican commissioners joined Democrats in recommending the practice be banned — a rare moment of agreement at an agency often defined by partisan gridlock.

“We have to ensure we are encouraging people who can only contribute small amounts to have their voices heard but not taken advantage of,” Ms. Klobuchar said in an interview.

In a statement, Mr. Durbin said he was “proud” to introduce the bill with Ms. Klobuchar. “In a bipartisan recommendation, the Federal Election Commission urged Congress to take action to stop donation practices — egregiously employed by the Trump campaign — that tricked contributors into recurring payments,” he said.

The Times investigation found that Mr. Trump’s political operation, short on cash, had steered his online contributors into becoming unwitting repeat donors by prechecking a box to withdraw additional donations as often as every week last fall; their solicitations also featured a second prechecked box that was termed a “money bomb.” Over time, the campaign added text, sometimes in bold or all-caps type, that obscured the opt-out language. Soon, banks and credit card companies experienced a flood of fraud complaints.

All told, the Trump operation with the Republican Party refunded $122.7 million to donors who gave through the online processing site WinRed — more than 10 percent of every dollar raised. In contrast, the online refund rate for President Biden’s campaign with the party had been 2.2 percent on ActBlue, the equivalent Democratic processing site.

While the practice of prechecking boxes is currently far more common among Republicans, Democrats have also previously used the tactic. Some prominent Democratic Party committees continue to deploy it. And Mr. Trump has continued the practice in his post-presidency.

Ms. Klobuchar’s legislation would require that all political committees receive “affirmative consent” to take donations, and it explicitly says that prechecked boxes do not meet that requirement.

“If you have any experience and you look at this, you know that it’s just pure fraud,” Ms. Klobuchar said of the prechecking practice, “and it is nothing that should be allowed going forward.”

Ms. Klobuchar said the F.E.C.’s unanimous vote was “very helpful” in creating momentum for her legislation, which is a stand-alone two-page bill but could be rolled into other election-related legislation. Democrats are currently pressing legislation that would enact a major overhaul of elections, but that bill’s prospects remain murky.

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