In recent years the world of political fundraising has been forever changed by Internet donations, but this decade it may get rocked again by text message donations. President Obama and Mitt Romney have only been accepting donations by text message for the past few weeks, but hundreds of thousands of people have already donated.
"Everybody is carrying a phone, and 99 percent of texts are read," says political consultant Mark Armour, who spearheaded this effort. "It's quick. It's easy. It's hassle-free."
It took a tremendous effort and a small army of lawyers, campaign gurus and wireless company employees to get the idea off the ground. Federal election law states that any donation must be made within 10 days, but cell phone bills often aren't paid for 45 to 60 days. "The only way around that was to get an aggregator," says Armor. "In this case it's payvia. That's the company that did the Haiti donations. They serve as the middle man between the wireless carriers and the campaigns, basically fronting the money under a term called factoring."
To donate to President Obama, supporters merely need to send a text to 62262 with the subject line "give." Romney supporters can text 37377 with the same subject line. In each case an anonymous donation of $10 is given to the campaign. Supporters can donate up to five times before the end of the campaign.
"The tool is innately and inherently advantageous to a candidate like Barack Obama," says Armour. "He has a larger grassroots network, and more of his donations in general have come from smaller donors . . . Activating thousands and thousands of small donors not only democratizes campaign finance by offsetting the effects of the Super PACs, but it also brings more people into the political process and encourages them to vote."
It's illegal to spam text messages to random people, but once people donate by text donation the campaigns can begin sending them texts. "Then we can let them know what's happening in the campaign," says Armour. "We can also bring them into the web interface so we can hit them up for larger donations of reportable dollars."
Armour hopes that text message donations will eventually blunt the power of the Super PACs. "Imagine that Karl Rove's Crossroads Super PAC throws $10 million into a swing state," he says. "We can go to people, tell them what's happening, and a million donors giving ten dollars each will counter the entire effort of the Super PAC."