As the Democratic presidential candidates wound down their second debate in Detroit last month, Donald Trump’s fundraising committee blasted out an email decrying the “socialist circus” with a tempting offer to supporters of the president.

“Our biggest fundraising deadline of the year is just 3 hours away, and we are still well short of our goal. This is so important that all contributions will be TRIPLE-MATCHED until MIDNIGHT TONIGHT,” the email promised. “Contribute before 11:59 PM TONIGHT to help us CRUSH our July fundraising goal and your contribution will be 3X MATCHED.”

The thing is, this matching program may not actually exist. Yet this has become an increasingly popular, if deceptive, fundraising ploy used by candidates on both sides of the aisle.

In the nonprofit fundraising world, offers of a big donor “matching” smaller contributions as a way to incentivize more giving are routine. But this tactic doesn’t translate well to political campaigns, which are governed by different rules, including laws strictly limiting how much a donor can give in an election. That means, despite what a fundraising email may say, there may not be a real matching donation program if it’s a political candidate making the pitch. The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment on its email pitch.

There are exceptions. Super-PACs, for instance, can take as much money as they want from a donor making a match program more feasible, and a candidate could personally match donor contributions if the candidate chooses. But the reason why matching donor appeals are not realistic for campaigns is because the most that any individual can give is $2,800 for the primary and $2,800 for the general election, a total of $5,600 in the two-year run-up to a federal election. Given the contribution limits, the logistics of a matching donor program are tricky.  […]