“We saw the trend early that this is a tool that allows our constituents to be immediately engaged,” Fattah spokeswoman Debra Anderson said. “We built this app so that people in our district who don’t have a computer or a laptop can still receive information about what we’re doing.”
Anderson said she thinks that when Members realize the power of iPhone apps, there will be an increase in development.
“I think politicians are surprisingly a little bit behind the power curve,” said Stetler, the app developer.
He points to the fact that the benefits of investing in an iPhone app, which can cost from $7,500 to $15,000 to be done professionally, are hard to quantify. This makes some lawmakers apprehensive.
Developers have to be careful about what content they put on apps. If Members use their Members’ Representational Allowances to pay developers, the apps are subject to content regulations similar to franked mail, which means they can’t promote campaign events.
If Members use donor money to develop an app, they can promote their campaigns and ask for donations, but they can’t promote their official duties.
But recent companies have sprung up that allow businesses to create a basic mobile application for free. The only cost to Members would be a $99 fee to submit an approval request to Apple.
“Look at how successful [President Barack] Obama’s Facebook was and how everyone was surprised,” Stetler said. “IPhone applications have the same potential. If you don’t have an application in the next election cycle, I think it’s going to be a disadvantage.”
At least some Congressional offices agree: In August, the Republican New Media Caucus will be hosting a seminar on the emerging world of do-it-yourself mobile applications.
More on Congressional Apps
Although they’re generally similar, some iPhone apps for Members of Congress have slightly different features.