Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to Axios Closer for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Stay on top of the latest market trends

Subscribe to Axios Markets for the latest market trends and economic insights. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with Axios Sports. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A little-noticed line in a recent criminal filing suggests federal prosecutors consider a popular political fundraising tactic to be legally questionable.

Why it matters: Fundraisers often boast of "5x" or other contribution matches to coax small-dollar donations. The Justice Department indicated in a court filing Monday this could amount to "material misrepresentations" if, as critics often contend, there's no evidence the match ever occurs.

  • The tactic has become more prominent in recent years.
  • Both parties have used it. Donald Trump's re-election campaign and its allies at the Republican National Committee exploited it to extreme degrees last year — promising up to 900% matches. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has also been a frequent fan of the tactic.
  • A campaign that enlisted donors to put up five times the funds raised through one such matching offer would almost certainly be inducing those donors to exceed the federal limits on their own campaign contributions.

What's happening: DOJ's comment was just a brief aside in a Statement of Offense. It accompanied a guilty plea Monday by the operator of a number of groups that raked in small-dollar donations last year with fraudulent fundraising appeals.

  • One of the groups, Keep America Great Committee, sent fundraising emails that "contained material misrepresentations including promising '5x' matching of any donation to KAGC," DOJ wrote.
  • In a news release on the guilty plea, DOJ emphasized the fraudulent matching offers. "The solicitations promised that individual donations would be “5x matched' by (defendant James) Bell’s PACs... However, none of the individual donations was ever '5x matched' by Bell or anyone else."

What they're saying: Political compliance attorney Brett Kappel called DOJ's comments about KAGC's fundraising practices "very significant."

  • "This prosecution puts fundraisers on notice that the continued use of this very popular fundraising pitch will be treated as a possible violation of the mail and wire fraud statutes," Kappel wrote.

The big picture: The KAGC case caught DOJ's eye due to widespread fraud in virtually every aspect of the group's operations.

  • The scrutiny of its donation-matching claims specifically, though, suggests DOJ considers such offers problematic when donations are not actually being matched.
  • All indications suggest little-to-no such matching actually takes place, even among legitimate political groups.

Between the lines: Grassroots fundraising has surged for both parties, and the incentives to woo small-dollar donors are more intense than ever.

  • "In many cases, email fundraisers are reaching a point of diminishing returns and are given very high goals to hit. They're doing anything and everything to reach and beat them," said Patrick O'Keefe, director of customer success at the payment processing firm Andeot.
  • O'Keefe, the former executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said tactics can include "fake matches and sketchy pre-checked recurring asks."
  • He was referring to recent scrutiny of the Trump campaign and others over efforts to subtly enlist small-dollar donors into giving multiple recurring contributions.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include information from a DOJ news release.

Go deeper

Jul 31, 2021 - Politics & Policy

DOJ: Russians hacked federal prosecutors

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Russian hackers behind the massive SolarWinds cyber-espionage campaign broke into the email accounts of some of the most prominent federal prosecutors' offices around the country last year, the Justice Department announced.

State of play: DOJ said 80% of Microsoft email accounts used by employees in the four U.S. attorney offices in New York were breached.

Jan. 6 select committee subpoenas four former Trump aides

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Jan 6. select committee investigating the deadly Capitol riot has subpoenaed four former Trump aides for testimony and documents.

Why it matters: Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Dan Scavino, former Defense Department official Kash Patel, and former Trump advisor Steve Bannon were all in touch "with the White House on or in the days leading up to the January 6th insurrection," the committee said in a release.

U.S. friends in Latin America are turning to China

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The U.S. is losing Latin America to China without putting up a fight, Ecuador’s ambassador to Washington told Axios, laying bare her frustrations with early inattention from the Biden administration.

Why it matters: Ecuador isn't alone. China has deepened its engagement in the region, and it's now the top trading partner for many of the region's largest economies. That gives Beijing considerable leverage in a region historically dominated by the U.S., and makes Latin America a major frontier in the global competition for influence.