With the (delayed) start of the Republican Convention in Tampa earlier this week, the really officially serious campaign season starts. For the next 10-odd weeks, most American start to focus on the candidates, their platforms, and their messages. There has been much talk about the low level of discourse that has driven the campaign thus far, but − unlike Senate debates in the 19th century − no one has been caned.
This is the first post-‘Citizens United’ national election, so the astute political junkies are paying attention to the money flow from corporations and unions that need report their large donations until after the voting has been counted. But what about at the other end of the giving scale? This is also the first national election that offers opportunities for texting donations to candidates. How might that change the fundraising landscape?
First the practicalities: Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular customers can donate via text the text message GIVE to 62262 (which just happens to spell “Obama”) The donations will be billed to monthly cellular bills, and one can give $10 a time and up to $50 per billing cycle. As of writing, Republican Candidate Mitt Romney is completing negotiations with these and other carriers to allow similar donations to 466488 (spelling “Go Mitt”). The limits to donations are set by the FCC, and one should appreciate the fact that the carriers claim a fair chunk of each donation as a processing fee − for now, these donations are not considered charitable donations but business transactions.
Politically and financially, the Obama re-election team are well out in front of the Romney campaign in terms of small-dollar donations. President Obama has been quite outspoken against the Supreme Court’s decisions on corporate giving, and he often argues that smaller donations give a broader swathe of the population influence in elections. That the Obama team are first out of the gate with text donations is not much of a surprise.
The fact that such a high-profile fundraising event (arguably, the highest-profile event on the planet) is moving toward mobile giving/text donations will extend the public’s awareness of the opportunity and their comfort with the technology. The hard numbers on amounts given via iPhones and Androids (and the occasional BlackBerry still used by Bain Associates) will not be available until well after the election. Don’t expect huge sums, either. If one wants to give $100 to a candidate, one must consciously schedule 10 texted donations over two billing cycles − a rather tedious assignment. But many will give more than once, and the ease of sending $20-$50 over a couple of days will encourage them to tell their friends to do the same.
For any fundraising organization, no matter your party color, the fact that the candidates vying for the White House with text donations as part of their arsenals has to be an encouraging development. News outlets will follow the development. The Federal Election Committee will keep an eye on statistics. And people will hear about the impact texted donations on the campaigns. In the short term, younger voters are likely to give via their smartphones first. But they will often influence their parents and older peers, and as they age the generation who follows will take it for granted that one can donate to a candidate − or a charity − with the convenience of a brief message to an easy-to-remember number. Has your organization been taking steps to receive donations by text? The season is upon us!