Last night was a huge step forward for text message marketing for political candidates in the United States, with both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates launching text message donation campaigns at the Iowa caucus.
It’s no surprise either that text message marketing continues to grow in popularity as a communication channel for political candidates, as a recent poll found that one in five voters said the best way to reach them was by sending them a text message. Also, with many non-profits using text messaging to raise donations, as we saw with nearly 20% of all money raised for Hurricane Sandy relief coming from text message donations, it’s a no-brainer that political candidates would want to jump onboard the text message donation bandwagon.
You may recall that back in 2012 after the Federal Election Commission (FEC) approved the use of text messaging to raise funds for political candidates, both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama launched their own text message donation initiatives. Below you can see Barack Obama’s text message donation call-to-action, which was to “DONATE $10 TO OBAMA FOR AMERICA BY TEXTING GIVE TO 62262”. Obama used the dedicated SMS short code 62262, as it spelled “OBAMA” on a phone’s dial pad.
Mitt Romney’s campaign quickly followed Obama’s lead, and within weeks launched their own text message donation initiative, encouraging supporters to text the SMS keyword “GIVE” to the short code 37377 to make a $10 donation.
Both 2012 candidates’ text message donation programs were very similar, requiring supporters to first text the candidate’s SMS keyword to their SMS short code. Then supporters would receive a text message asking them to confirm their donation, and that they’re eligible to make a political donation. To confirm, the mobile phone user would simply respond “YES”, and the $10 charge would be added directly to the user’s mobile phone bill. You can see how this would look in the mobile phone screen captures below.
When the FEC approved the use of text message donations in 2012, they capped donations at $50 per mobile phone, for each billing period, or $200 in total donations per mobile phone. Also, political donations via text messages were limited to $10 per donation. Also, when the FEC approved text message donations, they approved two different variations of text message donations for political purposes. The two different variations are below.
- The first method approved by the FEC would require a mobile phone user to text message a premium SMS short code, registered to the political campaign. Then that mobile phone user would receive a text message back asking them to confirm their intent to engage in the transaction and to certify that they were eligible to make a contribution. The political donation would then be added to the mobile phone user’s monthly cellphone bill.
- The second method approved by the FEC would require a mobile phone owner to enter their number on a political campaign’s website in lieu of using a credit card number to make their donation. To get to the political campaign’s website, candidates would tell supporters to text a specific SMS keyword to a short code, which then would return a link in a text message directing the user to the website. After the mobile phone user confirmed their eligibility to make a political donation and submitted their mobile phone number, a text message would be sent to the owner’s mobile phone with a pin number. The mobile phone user would then enter that pin number back into the political campaign’s website to confirm the transaction. The political donation would then be added to the mobile phone owner’s monthly cellphone bill.
As you can see in the Mitt Romney and Barack Obama text message donation user flows above, those candidates were using the first option, but since the wireless carriers banned the use of premium SMS messaging in 2013, 2016 presidential candidates are forced to use the second option to collect mobile donations from supporters.
Interested in learning more about the requirements set out by the FEC for political groups and candidates to accept text message donations? Scroll to the bottom of this post, where we outline all the FEC requirements and rules for political groups and candidates to accept text message donation.
Ok, now that we’ve covered the history of text message donations for political groups and candidates, let’s see how 2016 presidential candidates are using text messaging to solicit donations from their supporters. First off, which presidential candidates are using text messaging to raise money? The good news, both Democratic hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders and Republican hopeful Senator Ted Cruz are using text messaging to solicit donations from supporters. So how is each presidential candidate using text messaging to solicit donations? To help answer this question, we’ve separated each candidate’s usage of text message donations below, starting with Republican hopeful Senator Ted Cruz.
Senator Ted Cruz
First off, Senator Ted Cruz is no stranger to text message marketing, as he kicked off his presidential candidacy by telling supporters to take out their mobile device and text GROWTH to 33733 to join his SMS campaign in support of his new leadership PAC, the Jobs Growth and Freedom Fund. Cruz gained over 16,000 new SMS subscribers during his speech, clocking in at nearly 7 new SMS subscribers per second during his 40-minute keynote speech.
So how is Senator Ted Cruz now using text messaging to solicit donations from supporters? At the recent Iowa caucus, he instructed supporters to text “DONATE” to the SMS short code 55022. You can see this in the below image taken at his Iowa caucus victory speech.
We’ve taken screenshots of Senator Ted Cruz’s text message donation process below after supporters text DONATE to 55022 on their mobile phones.
Senator Bernie Sanders
As Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Bernie Sanders is also no stranger to text message marketing. Senator Bernie Sanders’ SMS short code 82623 has made appearances at almost all of his events, and he’s actively encouraged attendees to text “BERNIE” to 82623 to join his SMS campaign. How fast is Senator Bernie Sanders’ SMS campaign growing? According to Claire Sandberg, his digital organizing director, within hours of their live-streamed house party event in 2015, Senator Bernie Sanders had almost 50,000 join by texting “WORK” to 82623.
So how is Senator Bernie Sanders using text messaging to solicit donations from supporters? At the recent Iowa caucus, he encouraged supporters to text “GIVE” to the SMS short code 82623, to contribute $10. You can see this in the ad below found on Twitter.
We’ve taken screenshots of Senator Bernie Sanders’ text message donation process below after supporters text GIVE to 82623 on their mobile phones. The one big difference between Senator Ted Cruz’s text-to-donate campaign, and Senator Bernie Sanders’ text-to-donate campaign, is that with Senator Bernie Sanders’ text-to-donate campaign, donations are currently limited to $10 as you can see below. It’s interesting to note that on both text-to-donate campaigns, both candidates give the option for donors to agree to receive additional text messages from the candidates.
FEC SMS Donation Requirements
As discussed earlier in the blog post, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) announced in 2012 that they approved the use of text message donations for political groups and candidates. Unfortunately for political groups and candidates, the FEC approval comes with a lot of requirements, and that doesn’t even include what the wireless carriers require when soliciting donations that will eventually end up on a mobile phone bill. Below are the requirements set out by both the FEC and the wireless carriers for political candidates that want to solicit donations through text messaging.
- Political groups and candidates can only provision SMS short codes for use in the United States. This was done to prevent foreigners from sending in SMS donations, which is a violation of campaign regulations.
- When engaging an SMS provider for SMS donations, there must be a contract between an SMS provider and the political group or candidate, which includes special provisions that require compliance with the requirements set forth by the Federal Election Commission.
- Each political group or candidate must be registered and in good standing with the Federal Election Commission, and relevant State authorities to be able to collect SMS donations.
- Each political group or candidate must only receive SMS donations through a single SMS short code. This means political group and candidates can’t switch SMS short codes, or use multiple SMS short codes.
- Mobile phone users may not donate more than $50 per month to any one political candidate or committee.
- Confirmation text messages must include a web link, that when clicked, opens a mobile webpage that includes the un-abbreviated attestation required by the FEC. The mobile web page would also explain terms such as “foreign national” and “Federal contractor.”
- SMS donations must be sent to the campaign’s treasurer within ten days of receipt. Because wireless carriers can take up to 60 days to remit SMS donations, a process called “factoring”, must be implemented.
- SMS donations must be remitted to political candidates or committees on a weekly basis.
- The SMS provider or the payment processor will be prohibited from sending the political candidate or committee any identifiable information associated with the phone number that made the SMS donation.
As you can see, there are a lot of rules and regulations that a campaign manager has to think about before starting a text-to-donate campaign. Don’t go at this alone, contact Tatango and let us help you navigate these issues and make your political campaign a success.
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