Monday night, the Federal Election Commission issued an advisory opinion which will take the small-dollar campaign finance revolution which started with Howard Dean, and went stratospheric during the Obama campaign, into a whole new era. Starting now, political campaigns can raise funds via text messaging, much in the way that charities have been doing for years.
The problems holding up such contributions in the past have concerned FEC regulations regarding (a) how quickly funds have to be transferred to the recipient committee from a conduit, and (b) verification that the contributor is legally permitted to do so. The vendors which sought the advisory opinion have agreed to limit contributions to $ 10 per text, and $ 50/device/recipient per month (and you must have a U.S.-based provider), and to have contributors verify their eligibility just as they do now for online contributions by having to respond to messages such as:
Reply YES to give $ 20 to Obama & certify ur 18+ & donating with own funds, not foreign national or Fed contractor. Terms m-qube.com/r Msg&Data Rates may Apply.
The vendor will provide the phone number (not name) of each contributor to the recipient committee, to allow them to track the point at which the contributor has crossed the $ 200 aggregate threshold beyond which her name must be disclosed. Moreover, via a process known as “factoring,” the vendor will float the money to the recipient committee in enough time, prior to the contributor’s paying of her bill, much like credit card companies do now and as the FEC had approved for contributions via 1-900 numbers back in 1990.
How big of a deal is this? GOP new media guru Vincent Harris explains:
Why are mobile donations so important? To “Millennials” their mobile device is the center of the universe. They’re not only listeners of streaming radio, and rabid Facebook users, but they are also rapid texters. A Pew Study released last year highlighted some of the age gap: “For instance, most cell phone owners only use two of the main non-voice functions on their phones: taking pictures and text messaging,” the report states. “However, most Millennials also use their phones to surf the internet, send email, play games, listen to music, and record videos.” While usage among the youth is much higher, even usage of mobile devices among older Americans is quickly increasing.
The ability to accept donations via text will greatly increase the percentage of donations coming in from mobile users as a whole. On the Gingrich campaign mobile users made up 18% of visitors to the campaign website but only 8% of our donations came via mobile users. The ability to text in a donation should help close that gap.
Or, as he asks, “How long will it be until the [Obama] campaign turns its famous $ 3 email ask into a $ 3 SMS ask and raise millions from an untapped medium?” Nick Nyhart, from Public Campaign, concurs:
With billionaires and super-PACs drowning out the voices of hardworking Americans, text message campaign contributions can enhance the role of small donors and, combined with public matching funds, could provide a megaphone for the masses.
Indeed. Mobile giving led to $ 35M for Haiti in the three weeks after the earthquake. If we want to overcome the power of big money in elections, it’s by strengthening the ties between candidates and ordinary citizens. This is the path forward.