Firms are putting pressure on the Federal Election Commission to give its blessing to text-message campaign contributions. For those in the Beltway last cycle, you may remember that "text-to-donate" was the hot snake oil of 2010. Several companies and consultants tried to ride the buzz of the successful Haiti text-donation efforts.
Text-message contributions aren’t allowed under federal law. But there are reports that firms are upping the pressure on the FEC to make a change. Supporters point out that text donations have proved successful for charitable giving.
After Haiti’s devastating earthquake in 2010, more than $32 million was raised through mobile giving. The cellular network providers facilitated the text fundraising efforts and waved their typical texting fees of about 50 percent. It won’t be so easy, though, when it comes to political contributions.
The Verizons & AT&Ts of the world aren’t soft hearted when politics is involved. Maryland and California have allowed text-message contributions for state-level candidates. Maryland hasn’t held a statewide race since it changed its rules and in California, party officials have complained that cell providers haven’t offered the service.
Other problems around collecting political donation via a text message include:
- The donations are not forwarded to the campaign until well after the billing cycle. This is no good if a campaign needs their funds right away to buy ads or support GOTV efforts.
- The donations are only tagged with the donor's cell number. Not their name, address, occupation and employer as required by the FEC. Telecommunications companies are going to have to change their policy and provide far more information about donors to make the FEC happy.
Political fundraisers have ways to get around these problems such having donors send a text and then having a phone bank call the prospect back for her donor and credit card info.
Another technique is to have donors send a text and then they would receive a link to a donation page via text. The benefits of these two strategies is that the campaign would have phone numbers of prospective donors. The down side is that the campaign doesn’t receive a corresponding name for the prospect who responded to the call-to-action.
Needless to say, neither of these strategies notched any significant fundraising success. One large Midwestern Republican state party tried something similar at its big annual fundraiser banquet. They hired a vendor who promised them fundraising riches. At the event a text-to-donate number was flashed on massive screens around the event. Phone bank operators were poised to call donors back to process their donation. When the event was over, a grand total of $143 was collected.
Lots of other campaigns took shots at text donations and few, if any, struck fundraising gold. Evidence of the text-to-donate bubble bursting is the fact that after working on six presidential campaigns and three national committees this cycle, no one has entered text based donation data into our sytems.
Will the FEC let campaigns process donations via text? I believe the FEC would like to provide this option. Their current stance is to embrace technology so more people can be involved in politics. The problem is that they need the mobile carriers to play along and provide information on the donors so you don't have donors going over their limits.
Campaigns also have to be comfortable with waiting 35-plus days for their donations. This means text donations will not be attractive to campaigns come October or even September. The mobile carriers have to be concerned about chargebacks, too. What if they pass a donation on to a candidate and the donor changes her mind or didn't understand that her text was incurring a donation on their mobile phone bill? Moreover, the carriers will have a difficult time getting their money back from a campaign that has lost and closed its doors.
Erik currently runs sales and marketing for CMDI, the largest Republican fundraising technology platform. Prior to joining CMDI, Erik founded numerous fundraising technology companies whose products have raised over $300 million for hundreds of political and cause-based organizations.
A version of this post was also published on CMDI’s blog.