Some political campaigns trick California donors into recurring payments. That must end


The Sacramento Bee / Richard C. Miadich and Catharine Baker

Imagine you feel so strongly about a candidate that you decide to contribute some of your hard-earned money to their campaign online. Imagine then discovering the candidate has tricked you into contributing more money without your consent by using a “pre-checked” box or setting on their donation website that automatically signs you up for recurring contributions.

The campaign automatically charges your credit card month after month and makes it difficult and time-consuming for you to stop the recurring contributions. You might eventually succeed at ending the charges after months of effort, but the campaign does not refund the money it automatically collected.

Such practices are legal under existing state and federal law. The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), California’s nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog agency, wants to outlaw this practice. Assembly Bill 775 would do that. We urge the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom to make it law.

We first learned of the use of pre-checked contributions by campaigns following the 2020 election cycle.

” boxes that committed them to recurring donations. To their surprise, these unsuspecting contributors saw their credit card being charged monthly in amounts far more than intended — and, in some cases, more than what they could afford.

Candidates from both political parties were utilizing the practice. Media reports also detailed how difficult some campaigns made it for donors to end the automatic charges, and how recurring contributions disproportionately affected seniors, who are less likely to have the technological savvy to navigate the obstacles campaigns set up to end the recurring contributions.

It became clear to us that this practice is not just deceptive, it’s potentially predatory.

AB 775 is designed to stop this practice in California’s state and local elections. Authored by California Assembly Members Lorena Gonzalez and Marc Berman, the bill would amend California’s campaign finance law to prohibit the practice of enrolling donors in recurring contributions through “pre-checked” boxes without their consent.

Under the bill, recurring contributions would only be allowed after a donor affirmatively consents to it and is plainly told how to cancel the recurring contribution in the future. Campaigns would be required to cancel a recurring contribution immediately upon request by the donor. Campaigns that violate this new law would be subject to fines.

The FPPC voted unanimously to support AB 775 and to sponsor the legislation. As an independent, nonpartisan commission, we recognize the bill’s important goal and the need for the bill to have widespread, bipartisan support. The FPPC’s unanimous vote to support and sponsor AB 775 reflects this, and we look forward to working with the authors of this bill to make it as strong as possible.

We believe, for example, that AB 775 could be improved by adding a requirement that campaigns reimburse donors for any contributions collected in violation of the law. This would ensure that people who have donated unwittingly can recover their money.

Our research shows California would be one of the first states — if not the first — to address the issue. Really, California should be first.