Supporters of Bernie Sanders will be able to send donations to the presidential candidate through text messages, a first in the sphere of political campaigns. The effort required a marketing firm to negotiate for years with CTIA: The Wireless Association and the Federal Election Commission.
For years, nonprofits have been able to accept donations through text messages. Think, for instance, of the initial efforts after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, when the Red Cross and other relief agencies collected $43 million in donations in just a few days by using text messages that charged consumers’ phone bills.
Political candidates, who likewise rely on donations, have long wanted to use similar methods to reach potential donors but have been stymied by both the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and by mobile providers. The FEC’s reporting requirements made the process more complicated than it would have been for a simple nonprofit donation, and mobile carriers didn’t want to play ball.
But last week, after years of work on the issue, the digital agency Revolution Messaging was able to release a direct text-to-donate tool for its client, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Although the company had previously launched a text-to-donate service, it required users to create a separate account, taking away some of the convenience.
The latest method, however, allows users to send more fluidly, without a separate account.
As Campaigns & Elections reports, Revolution Messaging’s work on the issue didn’t come along easily. For one thing, it had to collaborate with the FEC and CTIA: The Wireless Association on something that would ensure reporting requirements were covered, that people couldn’t accidentally donate to a candidate, and that the language of the agreements would please every major mobile provider.
The Wireless Industry’s Role
CTIA first asked the FEC for guidance on this issue back in 2010, when interest in campaign donations was reaching a peak—partly due to the success of text-based fundraising campaigns in the nonprofit world and partly due to the fact that President Obama had seen major success in his online fundraising efforts in 2008, making forward-thinking donation efforts appealing.
“Campaigns are relatively late adopters of this technology. It’s very typical for them to follow commercial advertisers in using these mobile short codes,” former FEC chairman David Mason said in comments to Politico on the issue at the time.
The FEC eventually approved using such technology for campaign donations in 2012, at which time CTIA released guidance for its members on the issue that set aside specific suggestions for members .
“Wireless service providers should be aware of these requirements and may want to consider incorporating them, as appropriate, into their agreements to collect federal political contributions through text message campaigns,” CTIA stated in the guidelines [PDF].
But because of the complicated regulatory structure, it took nearly four years for an industry vendor to offer a text-to-donate solution—with Revolution Messaging first laying groundwork in 2012, long before Bernie Sanders became a presidential candidate.
A Potentially Big Payoff
Other vendors in the text-messaging space were glad that a firm was able to pull off such an endeavor, even if it took years to bear fruit.
“Anything people can use to engage with campaigns and organizations in a meaningful way is good. There needs to be easier ways for people to give money,” explained HandStack CEO Jessica Hyejin Lee in comments to Campaigns & Elections.
Those who want to donate using their phones (text HELP to 82623 to see how it works) can donate up to $50 per month to the Sanders campaign through a single phone number, or up to $200 per year. (However, there’s a caveat: Donations made this way are not tax-deductible.