Way back in May 2019, the Trump campaign issued a press release to warn against “Dishonest Fundraising Groups” taking advantage of GOP small-dollar donors. “Their actions,” Trump’s team wrote, “show they are interested in filling their own pockets with money from innocent Americans’ paychecks, and sadly, retirements.”

This month, the warning came from the FBI. 

Scam PACs Are on the Rise,” they wrote — citing the case of Russell Taub, who raised more than $1.6 million from conservative donors and then used the money to pay for airfare, hotel stays, restaurants, clothes, cigars, strip clubs, and escorts. Taub was the Republican nominee for Congress in Rhode Island in 2016. 

But the examples don’t have to be criminal to show how little respect Republicans often have for their own supporters. 

In March, for instance, The Washington Post shared a story about a group of GOP consulting firms with a service model of charging insurgent candidates 80 or 90 percent commission on a donor’s first contribution. This month, after the press reported on “eye-popping” first-quarter fundraising results for Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Sen. Josh Hawley, ProPublica reported that the two used one of the same vendors — LGM Consulting Group — to juice their numbers. 

Axios has reported how a group of Republican digital operatives is working to create a centralized exchange to swap donor lists. The New York Times this month showed how the Trump campaign’s efforts to coerce donors into making recurring contributions became so aggressive that the campaign and the RNC were perhaps responsible for as much as three percent of all credit card fraud claims filed with major banks in 2020. 

And increasingly, there’s a common denominator for all these examples — WinRed, the most popular Republican fundraising platform. 

The LGM Consulting Group business model is seamless, in part, because WinRed actually allows vendors to deduct their fees automatically as the payment on a contribution is processed. 

WinRed, of course, also allows Republican campaigns to pre-check a box on donation pages to turn one-time contributions into recurring donations — and make the opt-out process wholly opaque. 

And those digital staffers who are trying to create a central repository of all conservative email addresses for campaigns to swap back and forth? They explicitly cite WinRed as the model to prove such an agreement was possible.  

There are always going to be grifters in politics, and when these trends get attention, that’s how they get characterized — as just a few bad apples. But right now, we’re seeing disrespect for supporters get baked into the infrastructure. And that’s dangerous for what it invites: cynicism as the expectation.  

If that norm crystallizes among Republicans, it will be easy for progressives to justify bumping up against the ethical boundaries of our own work in order to keep pace. 

That would be the wrong choice. 

Democrats have to recognize that the way we treat people is central to who we are. The more obvious that reality, the stronger the contrast we set between our opponents and ourselves. The more we do to reinforce the connection between our supporters and our work, the more trust we earn.

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