Will mobile campaign donations be a game-changer for politicians?

square-action-shotDetailed by reports from both the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, Square’s mobile payments hardware is being rolled out to collect campaign donations. Fundraisers are being outfitted with the small, plastic credit card reader which can be used with the iPhone, 3G iPad or Android smartphone to collect money while campaigning within neighborhoods or other commercial locations. Assuming that this program is successful when collecting money for presidential candidates, more politicians in lower levels of office could also adopt the strategy of collecting thousands of micro-payments with mobile smartphones or tablets. During the 2010 campaign season, the Square application was used by New York politician Reshma Saujani as well as Silicon Valley’s Josh Becker for political campaigns.

Obama-Square-AppAccording to Obama re-election campaign spokeswoman Katie Hogan, she stated “Eventually we want to make a version of the Obama Square application available to everyone from within the App Store. Someone who is a supporter of the campaign can then download the app, get a Square attachment and can go around collecting donations.” All money collected by the application would go directly to the Obama campaign and supporters wouldn’t need to get the approval of the local campaign office to become a fundraiser. The Square application that’s being used by campaign officials across the country does comply with Federal Election Commission’s rules on mobile payment donations. 

Last year, Square partnered with the Salvation Army in a similar manner to help the organization collect donations through credit cards rather than limiting collections to loose change, bills and checks. This program was rolled out in large cities such as New York City and San Francisco. It helped cut down on theft of typical collections, but Square also continued to collect its standard 2.75 percent fee on all transactions.  

square-on-iphone

The same processing fee will apply to political campaign donations, but does offer the public a digital paper trail to keep track of the donation. Identical to the standard Square application, the payee will receive a receipt through SMS or email. Outlined within the Federal Election Commission’s rules, the Square application has to collect specific information from the donor such as employer name, occupation, name, street address, city and zip code.

As stated by Square’s brand marketing representative, “It’s now easier than ever to give to campaigns of any political stripe. At a campaign, or any political event, donors will be able to give on the spot. They won’t have to run home and get a check or fill out long paper forms.”

romney-floridaRomney’s campaign is also rolled out a “beta test” of the technology in Florida during today’s primary with merchandise sales and fundraising. Since Romney won the Florida primary with approximately 46 percent of the vote, it’s likely that Romney fundraisers are using the Square hardware to collect donations tonight from registered Republican voters.

According to Romney campaign digital director Zac Moffatt, he stated “Anything that reduces the barrier to donate is going to help us with our supporters. The challenge on this sort of thing is never with the technology, it’s with the compliance. We’re making sure everything we’re doing follows fundraising rules and is compliant with the FEC,” in regards to Square’s mobile payment technology. 

The Romney campaign is also looking into creating a custom mobile application, similar to Obama’s campaign, that would allow anyone to collect money for the Republican candidate using the Square hardware. According to campaign officials, they are also looking into developing an iPhone specific application to collect donations through an app interface. However, Romney campaign officials are concerned about the 30 percent revenue cut that goes to Apple when a micro-transaction is conducted through an application downloaded from the iTunes App Store.

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