By Ian Rosoff
Picture the democratic or republican convention, after every speaker, a number will flash across the thirty foot big screen with a number, and a texting frenzy will ensue, all with sms messages delivering micro-donations to candidate Obama or Romney.
The Federal Election Commission handed down their ruling that political campaigns can now accept text donations. Our friends at InTheCapital ran a great blog about this decision the other day. Their piece highlighted the potential for small donors to combat the superPACs, by increasing the ability for small donors to make an impact.
This begs the question, will this new fundraising tool impact the 2012 election? The answer is probably not significantly, because the texting donations are capped at fifty dollars, and it’s a relatively new advent that people won’t be as familiar with. At the same time it should not be ignored as mobile donations have enormous potential.
When you think of text donations, you might recall the Red Cross raising more than $32 million for the Haiti relief effort, all from people texting ‘HAITI’, and giving ten dollars. Other charities have embraced this technique, and a flurry of new companies that help organizations coordinate these mobile campaigns have sprung up.
One such company is mGive, their basic package starts at $349 a month, which they argue is still inexpensive compared to direct mailing and other fundraising strategies. Of course the phone companies also take their cut, taking anywhere from ten to fifteen cents on average per text, although there have been claims that other hidden fees can siphon off larger chunks of the donations.
The scale of mobile giving is still quite small, but it also has few barriers to entry allowing small campaigns access to mobile pocketbooks. Mobile fundraising is growing, and becoming more complicated: here is a comprehensive guide to how it works in the world of charity. How it will translate to elections remains to be seen, but expect innovation and experimentation. Also, with the true advent of mobile wallets, mobile giving is only going to get bigger and easier.
Politically speaking the Obama campaign already has experience with mobile strategies, and has shown a talent for engaging technology for fundraising and awareness purposes. One of the appeals to mobile giving is that it’s an inexpensive entry point for young mobile users to donate, $5 and $10 dollar donations today could mean larger ones in the future.
While both Romney and President Obama support text donations, there are some concerns. Mobile fundraising does provide for opportunities to circumvent election law. With multiple phones a person could exceed the maximum anonymous donation limit. A CNN article points out, foreign nationals who can’t give money to politicians could use American phones to make donations. They also point out that corporations might encourage employees to use their work phones to make donations.
Advocates for the FEC’s decision argue that people looking to give large amounts of money will just start superPACs. This is likely true, but superPACs are also going to take advantage of mobile fundraising, perhaps wiping out the idea that this is a tool for the little guy.
Ultimately this means that even more money will be pumped into elections. Fundraising is adapting, and mobile campaigns will allow instant infusions of cash. While text donations might not change the 2012 election dynamic, with the smart phone revolution still in its infancy, this is going to be an extremely valuable tool for the future.