Even in election years marked by multimillion dollar donations to a new brand of political action committees–better known as Super PACs – President Obama continuously shows that he understands the value of small-money donors. The Obama campaign took grassroots fundraising to a historical level in 2008, raising 45% of their overall funds in small contributions. Now, four years later, grassroots fundraising has been given a new weapon. They’re going mobile.
Three months after the FEC unanimously approved a rule allowing text message contributions, Obama’s team is days away from wrapping up agreements with Verizon, Spring and T-Mobile to begin fundraising via text by the end of this week.
How will it work?
Text to donate campaigns have typically been used in large-scale charity movements. They made their first big splash during the aftermath of the earthquake that tragically devastated Haiti. In just two weeks, Americans contributed $30 million through text message donations.
In order to comply with FEC regulations and protect the interests of the mobile carriers, the approval of text message contributions came with strict rules and conditions.
- Donations will be capped at $10 per text, $50 per month, and $200 per cycle.
- The FEC has stated that campaigns are “solely responsible” for ensuring their donations comply with all FEC laws, including laws that prohibit donations from corporations and minors.
- Wireless service providers may decide to accept donations for certain political committees and not others.
- Contributions will be assessed a fee. Carriers and other payment processors will likely receive between 30 and 50 percent of the total contribution.
This is how text message fundraising will work. 1) Campaigns will distribute a phone number to a mobile payment processor for their supporters to text in order to donate. 2) Donors text that number, attest that they are legally permitted to contribute, and pledge their contributions. 3) The mobile payment processor and wireless carrier take their respective fees from the contributions. 4) The rest is given to the campaign by the wireless carrier. 5) The donation is added to the donor’s bill at the end of the month. 6) The donor pays the wireless carrier.
How large of an impact will it have?
Donors already have the incredibly easy-to-use option of contributing with credit cards online, so why is text messaging going to matter so much?
Well, simply put, because it’s easier. Almost 80 percent of Americans send or receive at least one text per day. Young college students – a group the Obama campaign has connected with on an unprecedented level – never leave home without a phone in their pockets. To many people, texting a five-digit number doesn’t feel like spending money, so the hope is that they’ll just hit send and not think twice about it.
Imagine being one of the tens of thousands of people who will be at the Democratic National Convention when President Obama accepts his presidential nomination. You’re in the moment, listening to the President of the United States of America deliver an inspired speech to his supporters. Cameras are flashing, flags are waving, and iPhones are recording. People are standing, clapping, screaming, and whistling as Obama thanks his crowd, promises change, and says God Bless America. He exits the stage, and as he’s walking off, a JumboTron flashes a message: Text GIVE to 62262.
Still caught in the moment, close to 70,000 people – the estimated attendance in Denver four years ago – around you pull out their phones and press the buttons to donate ten dollars.
It’d be hard not to do the same, and that’s why it’s going to be important.