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Presidential Election Campaign Fund Pays for Medical Research Too

A funny thing happened when Ken E. was filing his taxes using H&R Block software. When he got to the screen asking if he would like to give $3 to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, he clicked the “learn more” link and got an unexpected explanation in the fine print.


Election finance

Say what?

Apparently in 2014, Congress decided to no longer allow political parties to use taxpayer money from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund to finance their party conventions. Instead, it redirected that money to the “10-Year Pediatric Research Initiative Fund” designed to fund projects related to childhood diseases. The law was named after Gabriella Miller, who, while battling a rare form of brain cancer herself, helped raise money to fund pediatric cancer research. She died at age 10.

Our consumer said, “Even in my wildest dreams I would not have connected giving to the campaign fund to mean that I am donating to pediatric medical research.”

For once, the fine print revealed a great positive surprise.

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Metro’s $20 Home Internet Has No Catches?

Metro by T-Mobile is a prepaid cell service provider (formerly Metro PCS) that also offers 5G home internet. In this commercial that began running last month, they promise an unbelievable deal — only $20 a month for internet service. And they say there are no catches and no “exploding bills.”

Click arrow to play commercial

No catches? Really?


Metro fine print

In order to get the $20 internet service you have to (1) qualify for the federal Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), (2) buy a monthly cell phone plan from Metro, (3) pay $25 the first month not $20, (4) sign up for autopay, and (5) be able to access the 5G service which is only available in certain cities/areas.

The federal program provides a $30 a month discount to those with households whose income is no more than 200% of the federal poverty level or if at least one person is on Medicaid, Section 8, or one of several other social welfare programs. Metro’s advertised $20 monthly rate already reflects that $30 discount.

On top of all that, this federal program is winding down this week and will no longer accept applications after February 7, 2024! The money for existing enrollees is expected to run out by May. And then, contrary to the Metro’s promise of “no exploding bills,” subscribers’ monthly bills will likely more than double.

Despite the FCC’s January 11 announcement of the end of the ACP program, Metro continued to run the commercials for their $20 internet service at least through January 26.

We asked Metro’s PR folks if it was fair to orally advertise “no catches” (1) when there were so many qualifications only disclosed in fine print, and (2) when the vast majority of viewers will not be eligible for the advertised price. The company responded in relevant part:

We are in the process of replacing this ad prior to the last day of sign ups. {A] key goal of this campaign [is] … to help educate millions of Americans … about a more affordable, flexible option for home internet. Of course, all the advertising always noted that ACP was eligible for “qualifying customers” in larger font.

I’m sorry, the net impression created by that ad is that Metro itself is offering $20 internet with no strings attached. The requirement of first needing to be approved for a federal program is anything but clearly disclosed (and certainly not in large type). It’s great if a company wants to promote a federal program to help lower income people with their bills, but just come out and say that’s what it really is.

In our view, then, this ad is extremely misleading as presented. We’ve asked the National Advertising Division (NAD) of Better Business Bureau National Programs to review the case.

What do you think of advertising like this?

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FTC Says TurboTax’s Free, Free, Free Ads Were False, False, False

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission issued an Opinion and Final Order against Intuit Inc., the maker of TurboTax, the most popular brand of tax preparation software, saying it had engaged in deceptive advertising practices. It had accused the company of running ads for free tax prep services for years but it appears the majority of those who signed up were not eligible for those free services. [See complaint.]

In some ads, like the one below, the word “free” is mentioned perhaps 20 times in a 30-second commercial.


The virtually unreadable fine print says that the free version is for simple returns only.

Under the FTC’s final order, Intuit has to make disclosures abundantly clear in its advertising about the limitation of their free edition.


The Commission’s Final Order prohibits Intuit from advertising or marketing that any good or service is free unless it is free for all consumers or it discloses clearly and conspicuously and in close proximity to the “free” claim the percentage of taxpayers or consumers that qualify for the free product or service. Alternatively, if the good or service is not free for a majority of consumers, it could disclose that a majority of consumers do not qualify. [Emphasis added]

Sure enough, last week Intuit began running new TV ads for TurboTax Free that unambiguously say that only about 37-percent of people will qualify to use the program free.

Whether the new ad is satisfactory to the FTC is for them to say, but it is refreshing to literally hear a company’s disclaimer rather than having to catch it in a too-quick and too-small-to-read footnote.

Since this was an internal administrative proceeding where the FTC cannot assess financial penalties, Intuit got off easy. Nonetheless, they have appealed the decision to court.