Payvia, which just launched its new mobile payment platform for carrier billing this July, has been selected as the exclusive vendor to power the campaign contributions for Obama for America (OFA). This will allow supporters to send in donations to the campaign via text message, and those charges will later appear on the user’s monthly cell phone bill. The company says it first presented its service to the Federal Election Commission earlier this spring (before its public debut), and then was approved unanimously by FEC members votes. This is the first time politicians have been able to receive donations this way – something that was made possible by the FEC’s ruling in June that authorized this grassroots method for political fundraising.
The Obama Campaign announced that it would begin accepting donations via text messages earlier this month, allowing supporters text “GIVE” to 62262 for those on Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, with AT&T planned for the “near future,” according to a press release put out by the campaign. Donations were capped at $50 per month, and $10 per text, per FEC rules. Mitt Romney’s campaign is expected to do the same, with supporters texting “GOMITT” or 466488.
Although it may seem surprising that payvia was chosen for this effort, given it was only just launched, the company it comes from has been operating in this space for some time. Payvia is from m-Qube, which started a transaction and carrier billing network in North America in 2004 – in other words, it knows the ropes. m-Qube had originally focused on entertainment services (ringtones, wallpaper, etc.) back in mobile’s earlier days. As payvia, it’s now competing with a number of others, including Boku, Zong (now eBay-owned), Bango, Netsize, Fortumo, boxPAY, and more.
According to payvia President, Darcy Wedd, his company was chosen for a number of reasons. “We demonstrated leadership in this space with the payvia group authoring multiple Federal Election Commission (FEC) Advisory Opinion requests,” he explains. “We worked through a series of these requests with the FEC in June and August, each approved by unprecedented unanimous Commission votes. As a result, payvia’s approved proposal will permit political committees to accept contributions via carrier billing. payvia’s core technology platform addressed all of the requirements necessary to garner the support of the FEC,” he adds.
For the company, the impact to payvia’s bottom line are “significant,” says Wedd. “One of the FEC requirements is that the payvia must charge the political committees normal commercial rates for these contribution programs,” he tells us. Asked if he could estimate the number of donations expected, Wedd deferred, saying that the marketing plans for the campaigns remain confidential, but the potential reach is in the tens of millions.
The importance of the FEC’s ruling to allow text message donations cannot be overstated. As the influence of affluent donors and super PACs grows, the ability to raise small amounts via SMS could help shift power back to the general public. Text messaging could tap into impulsivity – reaching those who wouldn’t normally bother to donate, but are fine with sending a quick text. It’s a method that’s proved successful for non-political fundraisers, like when SMS was used following the earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010. There’s also the possibility for further virality, since text message users could quickly share word of the SMS donation via friends.
This isn’t the Obama’s campaign first embrace of SMS by any means. The campaign also texted users who Obama chose for his VP back in 2008.