UPDATE: The Trump campaign website has apparently removed this widget. A spokesperson for campaign did not immediately respond to phone and email messages.
A scrolling ticker on the Trump campaign website seems to show incoming small-dollar donations in real time — but in actually, it’s a prewritten “sample_donation.xml” code that hasn’t been updated since Oct. 9, Heat Street has learned.
The potentially misleading widget was first spotted by a Twitter user, and our Heat Street tech experts looked at the code and confirmed it was prewritten.
— Jack Danger (@jackdanger) October 20, 2016
Every time the page is refreshed, the “Trump Team” ticker shows a $25.00 donation from “Dylan S.” in Illinois, followed by “Janet L.” of Colorado, $5, and then “Alysha C.” of Washington, $25, and so on, through a list of about 500 “donors.”
By deadline, the Trump campaign had not responded to a phone message or to emailed queries about the ticker.
A spokesman for the Federal Election Commission declined to comment on the ethics or legality of such a campaign website feature.
Jason Torchinksy, a Republican election lawyer, says it’s impossible to verify whether the donations listed are real. Campaign contributions under $200 aren’t publicly reported, he says, and the Trump campaign has set a record for small-dollar donations among Republican presidential candidates.
But even if the donations scrolling across the ticker aren’t real, “there’s no law that prohibits you from making something up, and it wouldn’t be the first time this campaign made something up,” Torchinsky says. “Do people try all kinds of gimmicks to get donations? Yes.”
Misleading information can raise ethical quandaries, says Hana Callagan, the director of government ethics at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, who has taught on campaign ethics.
“Our electoral process is based on the ethical notion of creating an informed electorate,” Callagan says, speaking generally. “Accordingly, every candidate has a duty of truthfulness. If a political communication is deceptive then it is unethical. Communications that imply one thing, where something else is actually the truth, would fall into this category.”