Campaigns say they’ll match political contributions. It’s not clear how they would do that
An email from President Donald Trump’s campaign on July 31 gave supporters reason to believe their political contributions would go further than they might otherwise think.
“There has NEVER been a more important time for YOU to step up,” the campaign wrote. “That’s why we will be TRIPLE-MATCHING all contributions made before 11:59 PM TONIGHT.”
The message was one of several that week in which the president’s reelection campaign promised to match supporters’ contributions. Matching — when campaigns tell donors that their contributions will be equaled or multiplied by an unknown source — has emerged as a relatively common fundraising tool among groups across the political spectrum in recent years.
In July, the Progressive Turnout Project, an organization dedicated to increasing Democratic voter turnout, bought Facebook ads saying that contributions would be five times matched. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) committee promised donors a four-times match if they chipped in during the last few days of the month.
None of the pages explained just how the matching would work.
Limited-time matching gives ideological supporters extra incentive to donate to a campaign they care about. But legal experts say it is hard to see how donation matching could happen given campaign contribution limits. And there are no accountability mechanisms to determine whether campaigns actually follow through with their promises.
“I think these promised matches are largely a marketing ploy from direct mail fundraising,” said Michael Kang, a law professor at Northwestern whose expertise includes campaign finance. “They stir up contrived urgency.”
Political campaigns have long use matching donations as a fundraising tactic. Roll Call identified several congressional campaigns, both Republican and Democratic, that said they would match donations during the last midterm cycle. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are among the politicians who have offered dollar-to-dollar matching during fundraising pleas at some point, though their promises were more limited and cited personal funds or pledges from large donors.
The potential for matching donations is restricted by campaign contribution limits. Individuals can give no more than $2,800 to a given federal campaign during the 2020 election cycle. Since primary and general elections count as separate cycles, ardent supporters can give as much as $5,600 to their preferred candidate.
“If the match is a real thing, it has to come from other donors and would be limited and disclosed as well,” Kang said. “There’s no unlimited pool of money from which a 3 or 4-to-1 match can come.”
Matching donations one-to-one would require a coordinated network of wealthy donors who had not yet given to the campaign. Triple- or quadruple-matching would require such an effort to be that much larger.
“I suppose you could get a group of 10 people to match, say, $50,000,” said Brett Kappel, an attorney with the law firm Akerman who focuses on campaign finance and political law. “But I’ve never seen it happen.”
A donor or group of donors might be able to match an upstart campaign seeking small-dollar contributions. But keeping up with national campaigns that rake in tens of thousands of dollars each day would be far more difficult. Between his campaign and joint fundraising committees, Trump raked in nearly $64 million from small-dollar donors during the first six months of 2019, an average of $350,000 per day.
Alternatively, candidates could legally match donors’ political contributions using personal funds. Both Trump and McConnell have self-funded parts of their campaigns during previous election cycles, but Federal Election Commission filings show that neither has contributed any of their own money toward their respective campaigns this time around.
Matched donations would not appear differently from other contributions in filings with the FEC, according to Corey Gladstone, media strategist at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog organization.
“Without additional details voluntarily disclosed by the campaign, it is difficult to verify whether campaigns are following through on their promises to match donations just based on FEC reports,” Gladstone said.
The Trump and the McConnell campaigns did not respond to requests for comment on how they planned to match donations and whether there was a maximum amount that would be matched. Emails from no deposit bonus forex were opened at least a dozen times by each campaign.
PACs and other committees have different contribution limits than campaigns. Individuals may donate up to $5,000 to a PAC each year, and there are no limits on contributions to super PACs or 527s.
The Progressive Turnout Project is a PAC with an affiliated 527. According to its ActBlue page, contributions to the PAC in excess of $5,000 go to the 527 account. Under this arrangement, a wealthy donor could promise to contribute unlimited funds to the 527 that matched contributions to the PAC without raising legal concerns. The organization declined to comment on its matching system, citing the privacy of its supporters.
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