Lawsuit alleges GOP fundraising platform took advantage of vulnerable Utah woman

The suit claims thousands of dollars were charged to a woman’s credit cards to support GOP candidates, including multiple days with more than a dozen donations.

(Pete Marovich | The New York Times) A lawsuit claims Republican campaigns and committees, including former President Donald Trump's, took advantage of a Utah woman by charging her credit cards for thousands of dollars. The suit alleges the charges continued even after they were asked to stop.

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A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court alleges WinRed, the online fundraising tool used by Republican candidates, took advantage of a Utah woman and charged her credit card for thousands of dollars in political donations even after being asked to stop.

The 69-year old woman, identified only as “P.B.” in court documents, suffers from “severe dementia” along with “poor memory, lack of problem-solving skills, and poor executive functioning.”

The suit alleges WinRed began sending fundraising solicitations on behalf of several Republican candidates and political committees to the woman beginning in August of 2019 when the platform first went online. Since that time, according to the suit, WinRed engaged in a “relentless campaign of abuse and exploitation” to continually charge the woman’s credit cards for thousands of dollars in donations. She sometimes made donations several times per day.

When the withdrawals were discovered in June of this year, WinRed was asked to cease the automatic withdrawals. In July, the platform, through legal counsel, agreed to stop. But, the automatic withdrawals continued, leading to the lawsuit.

The donations to Republicans were not unusual, according to Trent Waddoups, who is representing the woman and her living trust, as she was a longtime member of the GOP who donated to several Republican candidates in the past.

“She liked supporting Republican candidates,” Waddoups said.

But, he says this is not a partisan issue. Rather, it’s about a company that used deceptive tactics to drain thousands of dollars out of her accounts, he says.

“They promised to stop taking money out of her credit card accounts,” Waddoups said. “They wrote back and promised they would stop taking money, but they promptly started up again.”

An email statement from WinRed to The Tribune reads, “We are in receipt of the federal court action and are complying with it to the best of our ability. We actively work with all individual donors who contact WinRed customer service to resolve any issues they may have. That’s why we were surprised to learn of the court order after our last attempt to reach out went unanswered for the last few months.”

A status hearing regarding the suit is set for Friday.

An FAQ page on WinRed’s website says fundraising appeals are sent out by individual candidates either by email or text message, advising users the onus for unsubscribing from these messages is on the recipient.

“Unfortunately, there is nothing WinRed can do to stop these messages as, once again, we are not the group sending these. Our job is to process donations and help you support the candidates you want to contribute to,” the statement reads.

The plaintiff’s lawyers are still trying to determine how much money was given to GOP candidates through WinRed’s platform. The suit asks for $75,000 plus damages.

Through an analysis of Federal Election Committee data, The Tribune was able to identify several hundred donations that matched donations listed in the complaint. The plaintiff’s lawyers confirmed these belonged to their client.

FEC disclosures showed the woman made more than 500 donations to 76 Republican candidates and committees beginning in August of 2019 and continuing through June of 2021, which was the end of the most recent quarterly financial disclosure period. The donations totaled nearly $25,000. They include:

  • More than 20 donations to the Donald Trump for President Campaign for nearly $1,500 in total. She also gave more than $3,000 to Trump’s Make America Great Again PAC through more than 50 individual donations.

  • Nearly $1,700 to Sen. Mike Lee’s campaign. All but one of the 20 donations were made during May and June of this year.

  • Twenty donations to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for a total of $700. 11 of those donations for $545 were made on a single day.

  • Twenty-nine separate donations were made to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign for $1,652 over a 19-day period in June of this year. In total, she gave to Rubio’s campaign 36 times.

  • More than $1,500 in 23 donations to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign.

  • There were 36 donations for more than $2,100 to the Republican National Committee and 61 donations to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of Senate Republicans, for another $2,100.

  • 5 donations to Sen. Mitt Romney’s campaign for $250.

  • Sen. Lindsey Graham’s campaign received 25 separate donations for nearly $1,000.

The campaign finance data also revealed more than half of the total donations to candidates and committees through WinRed came starting in March of 2021, including several days with 20 or more donations. The largest single-day was June 15 of this year which listed nearly 30 donations totaling just under $1,700.

It’s not clear whether the hundreds of donations were made individually or set up as recurring donations.

The Trump campaign came under fire for aggressive fundraising tactics during the 2020 presidential race. The campaign opted online donors into automatic recurring donations without their knowledge or permission. The campaign refunded nearly $13 million to donors because of those deceptive methods.

Other Republican campaigns followed Trump’s lead and making recurring donations the default setting for those who give to campaigns.