With the 2024 election season in full swing, you're likely being inundated with requests to make donations to political campaigns. If you decide to contribute—or already have—make sure that sure you’re not committing to give more than you think. That’s because donors have found themselves signed up for recurring donations they didn’t intend to make.
Following the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party were forced to issue millions of dollars in refunds to donors who were opted into recurring donations with pre-checked boxes that authorized weekly withdrawals unless they unchecked the box. Since then, the Federal Election Committee has been recommending that Congress ban campaigns from using such tactics, but Congress has yet to act on the recommendation. In a December 2023 document outlining its legislative priorities, the FEC stated that its staff are frequently contacted by people who have discovered that recurring contributions to political parties have been charged to their credit cards or deducted from their checking accounts even though they didn't recall authorizing recurring donations.
Because this practice has yet to be banned nationwide, it’s important to make sure you're not inadvertently signed up to give more than you think.
What are recurring donations?
It’s common for fundraising campaigns to ask donors if they want to turn a one-time contribution into a sustaining gift. To do so, donors must authorize the organization to debit their checking account or charge a credit card on a regular basis.
The problem arises when donors are essentially tricked into making recurring contributions. It typically happens on online donation platforms that use pre-checked boxes for recurring donations. It's up to donors to notice buttons or boxes for recurring donations that are already checked and to select a one-time donation instead. Because many don't notice the pre-checked boxes or read the fine print, they unintentionally agree to recurring donations.
[ Read: How to Report a Fraudulent Charge ]
How to prevent recurring donations
Before submitting a donation form online or by mail, read the fine print. Make sure there aren’t any boxes checked authorizing recurring donations if you want to only make a one-time contribution. If you make a donation over the phone and provide a debit or credit card number, ask the representative to confirm the amount that you agreed to donate and that you are making a one-time gift.
Once you make a donation, review any statements the organization sends you about the contribution you made. Make sure they state that you made a one-time contribution, if that’s what you intended. If you make a donation online, you’ll likely see a pop-up on the screen specifying the amount and whether your donation is recurring or a one-time gift.
Also, check your bank and credit card statements or online accounts carefully to ensure that you’re not automatically being charged each month. Using an account monitoring service such as Carefull can make this easy because it will automatically alert you if it spots recurring contributions.
Try Carefull for free for 30 days to monitor your accounts, credit and identity and alert you to unusual transactions, signs of fraud and money mistakes.
What to do if you’re signed up for unintended recurring donations
If you discover that you’ve been signed up for recurring donations that you don’t want to make, start by contacting the organization or platform through which you made the donation to ask for a refund and cancel future payments. If you have received an email receipt for an online donation, that email might include the option to edit your payment details or cancel future payments. For example, Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue provides these options in the email receipts it sends.
Hang onto any emails or letters you receive confirming that you canceled your recurring contribution as proof in case the organization doesn’t stop automatically charging your account. If you believe an organization is using improper or illegal fundraising tactics, contact your state attorney general’s office. You also can file a complaint against nonprofit organizations that you believe are engaged in unethical activity with the IRS using Form 13909.
If you believe that you are a victim of a scam and that your money didn’t go to a legitimate cause, report the scam to your state charity regulator and to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Be prepared to provide any information you have about the scam, including the name of the organization, the contact information you have for it and details of the donation request.
[ Keep Reading: How to Avoid Charity Scams ]