Trump Camp Uses Online Gimmick to Fuel Donations Into December

Patrick Ruffini, a Republican pollster who previously worked in digital fund-raising, said the Trump campaign’s digital marketing tactics mirrored Mr. Trump’s personality.

“The president doesn’t have a filter, and there aren’t a lot of restraints on what they’ll say or do from a fund-raising standpoint either,” Mr. Ruffini said. He called the campaign an “optimization machine” designed to maximize revenue above all else.

“The matching inflation is a running joke,” Mr. Ruffini said of the promised phantom matches that have climbed from 500 percent in May to 600 percent in June, 700 percent in July and, occasionally, 900 percent — and now 1,000 percent in October.

Julia Rosen, a Democratic digital fund-raising specialist, compared that tactic to “giving kids candy instead of their Wheaties”: a temporary sugar high followed by a crash. “If you start off offering donors matches, they like that, and it becomes a situation where then they’ll only give if you give them a match,” she said.

“They have optimized themselves into absurdity and parody,” she added of the Trump campaign.

Privately, some Republicans wonder if Mr. Trump’s campaign deployed such tactics far too early, exhausting a supporter list that had been considered one of its strongest assets. At this point, however, most see little downside to the most aggressive marketing tactics, arguing that the risk of turning off supporters was no worse than losing the election.

Mr. Trump’s campaign has used a tool created by WinRed, the donation-processing site, that automatically opts supporters into making additional donations for months, and it has generated millions of dollars, according to people familiar with the matter. As far back as June, the campaign had asked supporters to give a second donation timed to Mr. Trump’s birthday. The campaign announced a record-breaking $14 million online haul that day but did not mention that it had piled up promised contributions in advance.

ActBlue, the Democratic donation-processing site, began removing a feature that automatically opted donors into recurring donations from its platform earlier this year. A representative said that no candidates were now using that tool but declined further comment. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, however, still does use the opt-in tool for automatic monthly donations. The Biden campaign has directed some Facebook ads to existing donors specifically seeking to convert them to weekly and monthly contributors, and the landing pages after people click on those ads have the recurring donation option prechecked.