When the Romney campaign streamed the first presidential debate on MittRomney.com, it included a banner ad soliciting donations with a text message short code.
“You are there to watch the debate, and because this is such a seamless and simple transaction, you could do it in just a few seconds,” said Darcy Wedd, president and founder of payvia. “If there was a donate button on the page, it would take you a matter of minutes to enter all your information.”
Americans donated about $43 million via text message in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, according to a January report by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. “These contributions were often spur-of-the-moment decisions that spread virally through friend networks,” the report said.
“It’s an impulse and I think campaigns rely on that as well,” Scherb said.
Congressional candidates tend to lag behind White House contenders in adopting untried technology. Wedd said the company is in talks with almost a dozen incumbents and party committees who are interested in rolling out text-to-donate programs in the next election cycle.
Some strategists, however, are wary, concerned that the fees charged by aggregators and carriers ultimately divert money from campaign coffers.
AT&T Wireless, for example, pledged in September that it would charge a “percentage of the contribution amount, as a flat per-text message charge, or as some combination of a percentage and a flat fee.” These rates would be “substantially less” than the 50 percent to 70 percent AT&T charges for commercial content providers. The company doesn’t charge to text charitable donations. AT&T also said the political contribution rate would be the same for all aggregators, political committees and candidates.
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), an early advocate of text contributions, has a short code but does not expect to use it to solicit text-message donations this cycle. He is almost guaranteed to win re-election for his sixth consecutive term.
“You never know when your race could be changed by a super PAC or an anonymous contributor,” said Robin Alberts-Marigza, Cooper’s campaign manager. “If someone else could press a button, we want to be able to press a button, too.”
Correction, Oct. 24 An earlier version of this story incorrectly estimated the approximate amount of money the Romney campaign raised via text donations and the ratio by which it was outraised by the Obama campaign.