Team Obama discovers joy of text donors
In A presidential election fight dominated by multi-million-dollar donations, Democratic president Barack Obama’s campaign is set to give small donors a new weapon by starting to accept contributions by text message for the first time.
Marking the beginning of a revolution in US campaign finance, Mr Obama’s team has revealed it is finalising agreements with Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel, US Cellular and T-Mobile USA to open the floodgate for donations by text within days.
Voters will soon start seeing a message on video screens at Obama rallies, at the end of advertisements or on flyers, encouraging them “to contribute $10 to Obama for America, text GIVE to 62262”.
Thanks to their small size and spontaneity, text contributions could empower smaller donors in a campaign marked by six-figure donations from outside groups to fund what is set to be the most expensive election in American history.
Text donations, as approved under US law, can be made anonymously but have to be capped at $10 (£7) per text, $50 per month and $200 in total for one candidate or campaign. Donations are prohibited from foreigners, the under-18s or corporations, which could also mean corporate phone accounts.
The US has more than 330 million wireless service subscribers. Almost nine out of ten US adults have at least one mobile and about three-quarters of those text, according to the Pew Research Centre’s Internet & American Life Project.
The process of political giving by text would be similar to giving to charity: A donor would send a message to a text code, confirm their intention and eligibility and later pay for the donation as part of their monthly bill. But in this case, phone and service providers processing the payment would take a significant cut from each transaction as they do with other non-charitable transactions, such as ring-tone purchases.
Typically, their fees can take 30 per cent to 50 per cent of the money sent over text, industry experts told the US Federal Election Commission earlier this year. It remains unclear what percentage the Obama campaign will be paying in fees.
“Every avenue of fundraising that we have costs us money,” said an Obama campaign official. “We pay the most competitive rates available in the marketplace to ensure our supporters have the greatest impact with their contribution.”
A Pew Research study late last year also found that of all US adults using mobile phones to text, African-American and Latino phone users are the most active texters, and these groups are generally seen as Democratic voting blocs friendly to Obama.
The Obama campaign, whose ability to harness small donors helped it set fundraising records and win the 2008 election, has been raising more from small donations than Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign has.
“As we push through the last 100 days of this election,” the Obama campaign said, “we remain focused on making this campaign as accessible as possible to the small-dollar donors that are the heart and soul of our organisation.”
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