Campaign Text Donations: Great Equalizer Or Contact Scam?


The Federal Election Committee has ruled that presidential campaigns and national political action committees are now allowed to solicit donations via text message, a ruling that could make it much more simple for campaigns to garner small dollar donations without the extensive hassle of online fundraising.

The move is supposed to be viewed as “the great equalizer,” as multiple small dollar donations could serve as a counter-balance to the large, anonymous, no-limit contributions to super-PACs that are already dominating the election cycle in 2012. With text donations, a supporter can easily send a small contribution as a “pledge” which an interceding company has agreed to cover and give to the campaign, to be reimbursed once the charge is paid off on the donor’s cell phone bill.

However, the text donation is much less likely to counteract limitless super-PAC funds when half of the text donation doesn’t even go to the campaign, but to fees associated with the program. According to the Chicago Tribune, “the political solicitor is likely to receive about 50 percent to 70 percent of the total, the rest shared by the carrier and the aggregator, according to the FEC documents on the ruling.”

So why would politicians and action groups be so eager to put into place a system that financially benefits the cell phone companies and support systems facilitating the donation at the expense of the candidates themselves? Because they aren’t looking for the dollars as much as they are aggregating contact information of those who are supportive of the politician, intending to contact them for further contributions later, hopefully soliciting much larger and more frequent donations.

In essence, donation by text is less about gathering funds via cell phone than campaigns and action groups paying large percentages of their fundraising haul to intermediaries to collect highly specific target lists for them to contact as future donors. If we really need an “equalizer” in campaign donations, wouldn’t it make more sense just to limit super-PAC money in the first place? 

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