Texas Ethics Commission Likely to Vote On Text Message Contribution Request Jan 31

To update my earlier post regarding the advisory opinion request filed by Harris County Republicans seeking approval for text message contributions: TEC staff advised that the proposal is definitely on the agenda for the January 31 meeting, and a vote is expected. So, if a method for processing text contributions is approved, it will be open season for tech firms who provide this technology for commercial clients–and some of whom provide it for federal candidates (at least for Obama and Romney)–to set up shop in Texas.

Text message political contributions have the potential to revolutionize political fundraising. Why? Impulse. Impulse drives many commercial transactions, and it is also powerful in political communication. In order to understand the potential, an understanding of how text contributions actually work is necessary.

The campaign first registers a “short code” and “keyword” that are used in tandem. For example, Romney supporters could contribute to the Romney campaign in the latter half of 2012 by texting “GIVE” to 37377. (To my knowledge, Romney and Obama are the only federal candidates to have used text contributions thus far since the FEC’s approval in June 2012; also, while California and Maryland have approved the technology, last I checked no candidates in those states had utilized it, likely because there have not been state-wide races since approval.).

Then, the campaign solicits text contributions by, for example, including an ask at a campaign rally or in a radio advertisement. Imagine a compelling political ad–timed to coincide with an appropriate event–that ends: “If you want to help with a $10 contribution, text GIVE to 12345 RIGHT NOW.” Imagine that technology deployed via Facebook or Twitter to thousands of followers immediately during or after some energizing event.

The contributor hears or sees the solicitation, and texts GIVE to the campaign’s code. The campaign’s automated system (run by a third party firm) responds by text to ask the phone user to confirm intent to contribute and certify eligibility to make the contribution under Texas law (and potentially requesting additional information, if required by the Ethics Commission). If the contribution is confirmed, the contribution amount is added to the contributor’s next cell phone bill.

At pre-determined intervals, for example, on a weekly basis, the third-party “connection aggregator” (the middle man in these text contribution transactions) advances to the campaign a certain portion of all of the contributions processed during the period, with the rest of the contribution amount (less transaction fees) to be sent to the campaign after the cell phone user pays the bill from the wireless carrier.

So, the campaign doesn’t have to wait for the contributors to receive and pay their wireless bills before they get the funds. A portion of the money is advanced pursuant to the campaign’s agreement with the text processing vendor.

More to follow, but this is a basic run-down. You can see how text message contributions can open up an entirely new funding stream that can complement traditional events. The check writers will still be necessary, but texting empowers a whole new swath of folks who a campaign would not reach through traditional means and fundraising. They don’t have to write a check, go to an event, or even get on the campaign website and fill in a webform. All it takes is a series of text messages (potentially as few as two).

And note the added benefit–the campaigns can build a list of cell phone numbers of supporters, all of whom are now invested in the campaign. THAT is powerful. And Republicans and conservatives in Texas have a chance to spearhead this technology, and begin closing the tech gap with Democrats.

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