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FEC Ruling a Victory for Your Campaign

Campaigns and political organizations across America were handed a major victory by the Federal Election Commission yesterday. After a long, hard, well worth it fight, the FEC approved our advisory opinion request to expand mobile payments.

What does that mean for you? First and foremost, we have helped ensure that the new text message donation system is a more accessible, affordable and transparent process for political campaigns. Most importantly, we helped save thousands of dollars for political campaigns.

How did we do this? The FEC agreed to all of our requests in the opinion we filed last month:

Accessible – Campaigns will now be able to use shared shortcodes to allow a quicker time to market than the initial m-Qube proposal.

Affordable – Federal campaigns are now allowed to share the costs of the shortcode with other campaigns to save $10,000 to $20,000 in just set up and fees for the ability to use these services.

Transparent – Contributions will be allowed to be processed and reported, and not just simply marked as an anonymous donation of $50 to $200. This would truly make this method of payment a new channel for committees to solicit and report contributions of donors.

“This decision will not only bring this service to political committees faster, but will make it more affordable and open for those using it,” said Scott Goodstein, Revolution Messaging’s CEO and Founder. “It’s a tremendous victory for consumers who will use this technology to support federal PACs of their choosing. Text message fundraising is an innovation we should embrace, but not at the expense of transparency and good policy.”

We are excited for this new process to begin and ready to move forward with our clients to begin receiving the benefits of this new, accessible and efficient donation system.

Interested? Contact us today with any questions or to get started right away.


The Federal Election Commission Approved Donations via SMS

We are excited by yesterday’s Federal Election Commission (FEC) opinions, which gives us the opportunity to provide mobile giving to our clients in the days ahead.

After weeks of back and forth with the Commission, and major obstacles from CTIA being placed on the advisory request, we are glad that the carriers will be moving these programs forward soon.

While our team empathized with the carriers not wanting to take on the liability for each contribution, we fought for more accessibility to the mobile giving gateway, as well as more transparency from the carriers in how they approve or don’t approve specific campaigns. We were glad the FEC ruled in our favor and did not allow the wireless carriers to simply reject any political action committees’ mobile programs under a generic excuse that these programs would hurt their “branding.”

In response to the carriers’ request to reject any campaign they want, Revolution Messaging’s comments on CTIA’s advisory opinion was quoted in the Washington Post:

That prompted Revolution Messaging, a Democratic consulting firm that has another text-message proposal before the commission, to point out that carriers already sell “gangster rap ringtones, sex tip text messaging, pornography and horoscopes without hurting their brand images” — perhaps demonstrating that associating with political candidates can be more controversial than selling pornography.

Revolution Messaging was able to secure several language changes in the final advisory opinion that makes the system more transparent while stripping CTIA’s proposed arbitrary rejection of program language.

While we can begin setting up programs in the days ahead, as the carriers determine short codes, we still urge the FEC to expedite our additional advisory opinion request (AOR) as soon as possible. Our request asks for the Commission to approve additional ways to make mobile giving for federal PACs more efficient and more accessible.


We’re Raising Our Concerns of Accessibility, Affordability and Transparency to FEC About New Mobile Giving Programs

Revolution Messaging Raises Concerns of Accessibility, Affordability and Transparency to FEC About New Mobile Giving Programs

Filed comments to assure ruling provides fair pricing and equal treatment of all campaigns

Washington, DC (PRWEB) August 03, 2012 - Revolution Messaging, the progressive leaders in cutting-edge mobile strategies, took a stand on behalf of campaigns and organizations seeking to raise money via text message by calling for fairness and equality.

Revolution Messaging commented on CTIA’s request for a Federal Election Commission (FEC) Advisory Opinion to approve mobile donations that was discussed in an open hearing yesterday. This was in addition to Revolution Messaging filing their own request for an Advisory Opinion stating the current opinion as written does not make mobile giving as accessible, affordable or transparent as it should be.

While some of Revolution Messaging’s comments were addressed in yesterday’s FEC hearing, the wireless industry continued to push exclusionary practices that would allow them to approve text message fundraising for one campaign over another.

“The carrier industry clearly stated they want to avoid any controversial issues even though they gladly make money off horoscopes, obnoxious ringtones and pornography,” stated Scott Goodstein, founder of Revolution Messaging. “The irony reaches the extreme as carriers are willing to act as a payment gateway for pornographers, but not politicians. While this ruling was expedited because a congressional race wants to be able to use mobile giving, the comments we heard yesterday made it clear the carriers would not permit the same campaign to use the SMS payment gateway.”

CTIA (the wireless industry) even argues they are just like a media company and can turn down campaigns that they feel are just not appropriate.

“Let’s be honest, the carriers are simply a gateway that operate on federally funded spectrum,” Goodstein stated. “They are not limited by program time like TV or have the same concerns that people are being forced to watch a commercial they don’t like. People sign up for text messages and should be able to have payments processed for candidates or committees that they support without the fear that a carrier will impose their own political agenda on the payment gateway.”

Revolution Messaging also strongly urges the FEC to allow for a discounted political rate to be available to campaigns that would not cause an illegal in-kind contribution to be made. Currently, carriers can charge a service fee of up to 40%, which is higher than the normal rate for non-profit organizations. Since carriers already set the contribution rate for non-profits at 0%, they can easily make a political rate card that is profitable for the industry, affordable to political committees and a low enough percentage to make the service competitive with credit card processing.

“While we are excited the FEC is going to rule on allowing mobile payments, we urge them to make sure the ruling is issued in a way that does not allow a carrier to favor one political action committee over another by allowing one to use this payment system and not allowing another,” Goodstein said. “We recognize and are empathetic to the carriers’ concerns regarding liability, but we need to achieve a balance of protecting the carriers while also fairly opening the system to the campaigns who want to utilize it.”

Listen to the FEC hearing on text message donations.


Calling on the FEC to Make New Mobile Giving Program Accessible, Affordable & Transparent

Progressive Mobile Strategy Firm Asks FEC to Make New Mobile Giving Program Accessible, Affordable & Transparent 

Washington, DC – Revolution Messaging, the progressive leaders in cutting-edge mobile strategies, today took a stand on behalf of campaigns and organizations seeking to raise money via-text message.  The organization filed a request for Advisory Opinion with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) saying the current advisory opinion as issued does not make mobile giving as accessible, affordable or transparent as it should be.

“If the Federal Election Commission is serious about helping federal political committees take advantage of the most innovative technologies, they will consider these changes,” said Revolution Messaging’s Founder and CEO Scott Goodstein.  “We recognize and are empathetic to the carriers concerns regarding liability, but we need to achieve a balance that protects the carriers while also fairly opens the system to the campaigns who want to utilize it.”

Revolution Messaging outlined several areas that need to be addressed in order to render the contributions by text message system workable for actual campaigns.

Accessibility:  In order to allow more federal political action committees and campaigns to take advantage of these new and innovative way to raise money, through mobile phones, several changes need to be made.  This includes allowing campaigns to share short codes, which is the infrastructure behind the service. Currently each organization needs its own code, which is costly and time consuming to seek approval for each.  Revolution Messaging is proposing a system whereby committees and campaigns can share short codes, cutting down the cost and turn-around time for these fast moving organizations.

Affordability:  Revolution Messaging strongly urges the FEC to cut the cost of collecting donations through this system.  Currently, carriers can charge a service fee of 40 percent, which is higher than the usual and normal rate for non-profit organizations.  In fact, purveyors of pornography and horoscopes are the types of organizations that pay up to a 40 percent service fee.  Political committees should not be treated the same as these types of organizations, and the rate should be low enough to make the service competitive with credit card processing.

Transparent:  In order to create a system that is widely used, it is important that there betransparency as to who can use the service. In other words, CTIA and the carriers should not be able to decide which federal campaign gets to register or promote a short code and which campaigns or committees do not.  The FEC has never allowed private groups determine who should be allowed into a vehicle of raising money and who should not..  Revolution Messaging believes that the FEC should not allow codes to be approved or not approved based on if the carrier likes a campaign or a candidate or does not like a campaign or candidate.

Another important variable in the move towards transparency is allowing users to report their identification information to expand the service beyond the anonymous $50 per billing cycle donations allowed currently.  Revolution Messaging is uniquely positioned to implement safeguards against illegal contributions, while at the same time collecting the information required for political contributions.  They maintain the ability to responsibly collect and maintain wireless user data, including the name, address, employer and occupation of specific wireless number users.


More Insight into the FEC’s Ruling on Political Donations via SMS

You may have heard the exciting news regarding the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) approval of a new form of mobile giving for federal campaigns. After much debate, the FEC’s final ruling now allows for campaigns and political action committees to receive up to $50 per billing cycle in contributions through a simple text message. There is no need for a credit card or writing a check – the contribution will be charged straight to the users’ wireless bill.

This is similar to what nonprofits did to raise money in response to natural disasters through a simple text message. The Red Cross is the most well known example and the group that first took advantage of this giving system with the help of Revolution Messaging’s own partner, Doug Busk. Busk pioneered this mobile payment gateway in 2004. Since its inception, the Red Cross raised millions of dollars of aid and instant relief with mobile contributions

While the above example is inspiring, and has political campaigns on the edge of their seat around the 2012 cycle, there are still a lot of questions up in the air that we must be cognizant of. First and foremost, while the FEC may have approved this donation structure, that does not mean we can start mobile giving programs right away. The mobile giving solution was created in 2004, but it took carriers until 2008 to figure out all the details of how payments will work, when the donations would be delivered, etc. Even with an accelerated timeline, this is not an overnight process.

Why would the carriers take that long to figure everything out? Because there is a lot more that goes into this form of mobile payment than meets the eye. A major question that needs to be answered is what will the percentage be that the carriers will take as a result of doing their part in this system? Currently, there is an industry fair market value rate of between a 30% and 50% take for premium text message services, such as horoscopes and ringtones.

The carriers need to be careful when they are setting a fair market value rate for political giving campaigns because they can’t play favorites by giving a lower rate to one political campaign’s mobile program over another. A major factor that will need to be weighed by anyone working in politics is will this new fee structure be worth it? Especially when there are other forms of mobile payment available that have a lower fee charged on the donation.

As you can see, the FEC’s approval is just the first step in figuring out how we can successfully and efficiently implement a mobile giving system for political campaigns. What would help move this process along? Having one or more of the carriers weigh in publicly on their plans, or even the FCC outline their preference on guidelines for the industry.

So for now, we should all be cautiously excited at the thoughts of where mobile fundraising will be at the end of 2012. It’s an exciting new frontier to see mobile political contributions quickly evolving and the FEC should be thanked for pushing this issue forward.


The Drawbacks of Text-to-Donate

California Governor Jerry Brown declared his support for allowing campaigns in California to start accepting donations via text message. On the surface this seems like a no-brainer as online donations have brought millions, if not billions, of dollars into campaigns through large and small donations. But text-to-donate has way too many drawbacks before it becomes a political reality.

Drawback one: Reporting. Currently, it’s illegal for a campaign to accept money via text message. Mobile carriers are not setup to track compliance data. So is the donor actually eligible to give? Are they an American over the age of majority? Have they exceeded campaign donation limits? Are they an employee of the Government? None of this information is currently available on a national level and probably won’t be for California elections.

Drawback two: Waiting. Mobile donations can take 90 days to process. Except in the case of the Haiti earthquake, mobile carriers wait until customers pay their bills before they start writing checks to the beneficiary. In the case of many special elections, runoffs or general elections, the 90-day period before a campaign gets its check from the mobile carrier may be post-Election Day.

Drawback three: Donation size. Mobile carriers aren’t credit card companies. They are in the business of taking money, not handing it out. Many carriers won’t start cutting checks until the amount donated has reached a certain threshold. For smaller or less popular campaigns this means the money could never come. Donors will be charged and the donations will be collected, but the campaign won’t see the money.

Drawback four: Fees. Mobile phone companies allow 501(c)(3) non-profits the ability to collect donations via text for a small charge or sometimes for free. But campaigns may not fit into that category. At this point, there isn’t a category for political campaigns and mobile giving fees are high, really high – 20 to 50 percent high. So now, a $5 donation is really worth $2.50. It’s up to the carriers to waive or lower this fee. Does Verizon really want to lower the fees for every person running for office in the entire state of California? Or for all political campaigns if this law can work on a federal level one day? Until then, it’s very cost prohibitive.

Drawback five: Digital Divide. Users with prepaid phones cannot participate nor can Cricket mobile customers, as Cricket doesn’t allow subscribers access to the shortcodes necessary to donate.

While mobile giving is certainly a great way to allow instant and small donations, it’s not feasible right now. The carriers need to change the way they operate, and states and the federal government need to adjust required disclosures for mobile giving. Once that happens, then we can begin the discussion on using mobile giving for campaigns. But simply allowing mobile donations in California is not the way to do it. If Governor Brown wants to bring something into the online age, he should start with online voter registration.


Mobile V. FEC

The FEC just put a halt to political contributions via text message. The CTIA – the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association – accused the FEC of “a history of imposing additional burdens that are above and beyond what the law requires,” but the real problem is the carriers’ inability to deliver contributions in a timely manner. If carriers were willing to address this and a way to more accurately account for who the donation is coming from, we could easily see mobile giving making an impact in the 2012 elections. It just needs to be accountable and transparent.

Instead of criticizing the ruling, wireless companies should address the problems their billing systems might have separating corporate funds from political contributions and also making sure that donors could not use the system to exceed the $50 limit for anonymous donations. These requirements aren’t going “above and beyond the law,” but are necessary to prevent illegal contributions from flowing to candidates. Additionally, federal law requires campaign contributions be forwarded to a campaign within ten days, but mobile companies typically work on a thirty day billing cycle. Many non-profits who have experimented with mobile giving usually find it takes even longer to get their money – sometimes more than 90 days – if they aren’t receiving a large amount of donations. This won’t work for campaigns soliciting donations 3 weeks before Election Day.

As easy as it is to put the blame on the FEC for holding back progress, the real problem is the unwillingness to make changes to the carriers’ system for processing mobile contributions. There is enough unregulated money coursing through the body politic without wireless companies creating a new platform for abuse.

A method for making political contributions via text would be a victory for those who believe in the power of small-dollar contributions, but my desire for justice and accountability is far greater. When the wireless companies take the necessary steps to accommodate the FEC – in time, I believe they will – our democracy will benefit by allowing individuals to more easily contribute to the candidates they support and causes they are concerned about. The potential for mobile contributions remains great, but they must be done right.


Social networks and smartphones fuel “mobile charity”

Note: Originally posted by Doug Busk of Revolution Messaging at Venture Beat.

By the time you read this, over $24 million in donations will have been collected via premium text messaging for the Red Cross’ relief efforts to aid those impacted by the horrific tragedy of the earthquakes in Haiti. To be sure, this is a credit to the generosity of the American people and to the need, which remains great. It also marks a watershed moment for mobile giving. There were milestones, however, along the way. Crises drive inspiration, invention, and adoption.

In December 2004, back when I was working for Verizon Wireless, a team of which I was a member determined donation via text messaging was an ideal way to aid those impacted by the tsunamis in southeast Asia. A messaging aggregator and service provider, mQube (since acquired by Verisign and then Mobile Messenger), stepped up to provide the platform to donate $5 per text message to the efforts of relief organization CARE in the region. Eventually, several carriers joined and it represented the first such cross-carrier mobile giving effort.

Most importantly, the concept was made concrete: When devastation strikes, news spreads fast, and at that moment of psychic impact, all of us want to help. And the device that’s most frequently with us to do so is a cell phone.

In August of 2005, fate visited a destructive blow to New Orleans and the surrounding areas with Hurricane Katrina. The team of carriers was reengaged and widened, mQube stood ready, and the Red Cross was designated the beneficiary. Texting “GIVE” to “2HELP” would result in a $5 donation. Participating carriers agreed to forward every dollar donated, rather than take the share they might for a typical premium transaction like a ringtone.

Carrier and Red Cross press activities gained some attention, but it was the viral impact of word-of-mouth that generated the most attention. The code was mentioned in morning talk shows, appeared on jumbotrons at NFL football games, was forwarded via email, mentioned in places of worship, and scrolled in the tickers of the 24/7 broadcast news coverage.

But at the time, text messaging wasn’t yet the de facto communication method it is today, and social networks, particularly Twitter, remained nascent and were generally limited to smaller groups of like-minded users. The catalyst that’s made the Haiti relief effort so powerful has been the combination of smart devices like the iPhone, the non-stop funnel of social network and news data, and text messaging.

In 2007, management of the 2HELP code was transferred to the CTIA’s Wireless Foundation, which continued to support it on behalf of the Red Cross. Organizations including the Mobile Giving Foundation and mGive sprung up to support mobile giving, creating a cottage industry.

With 2008 came the landmark mobile activism event of the Obama campaign, which leveraged passion and urgency of a different sort to help secure the White House for a previously little-known freshman Senator from Illinois. There, too, the pressure, in this case the need to fuel youth voters viewed as undecided or under-activated, drove innovation. And all the elements (adoption, viral, catalyst) were rising forces.

Now in 2010, we see the culmination of these themes. The State Department smartly tweets instructions for mobile giving, a healthy virus spreads, and instant action for good takes hold. It is our collective need to help, and to innovate in order to do so quickly, that has powered mobile giving to achieve this landmark moment.

Sidenote: While apparently most popular, mGive’s “Haiti” to 90999 for the Red Cross is but one of multiple mobile giving options. You can find a full list from Mobile Giving Foundation here. And you can find mGive’s full list of supported partners here.


Going Offline for Service

Right now, we have an opportunity to live the saying “think globally, act locally.”

Since Tuesday, all our thoughts and prayers have been with the people going through a tragedy in Haiti. But there is hope, and we’ve embraced a new way to give it. So far, concerned citizens have donated $10 million through text messages to rebuild Haitian lives and communities. Mobile giving is revolutionizing the ability of people to give in a swift and urgent manner to those who need it most. It’s another way thinking globally is turning everyday devices into tools to improve the world.

In just minutes, you can donate money to Haiti relief efforts by texting YELE to 501501, HAITI to 20222, HAITI to 90999, or ONEHEART to 85944.

This Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is a national day of service. Projects around the country will offer opportunities to act locally, reminders that we can personally make a difference right in our own communities.

By taking Monday “on” instead of “off,” we in the DC area can help improve it by beautifying local parks, elementary schools, or donating food and warm clothes. The Revolution Messaging staff will go offline on Monday to work at the Washington Hebrew Congregation’s 8th annual MLK Jr. service project where we will prepare hot food and sandwiches for the homeless. We encourage clients and supporters to join us this Monday by RSVPing on Facebook.

For those outside the DC area, VolunteerMatch, Serve.Gov, OneBrick are great resources to find service projects in your community.


Text Message for Haiti

Please Give Now

Text YELE to 501501
Text HAITI to 90999
Text ONEHEART to 85944

A 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti on Tuesday at 5pm ET.

Three hours later, singer Wyclef Jean posted news of the quake on his Twitter.

Sixty minutes later, the Haiti-born singer urged his 1,310,888 Twitter followers to donate $5 to the relief efforts by texting YELE to 501501. Yéle Haiti started in 2005 to provide community programs, food distribution and emergency relief for the country.

“I cannot stress enough what a human disaster this is, and idle hands will only make this tragedy worse,” Wyclef wrote on his blog. “The over 2 million people in Port-au-Prince tonight face catastrophe alone. We must act now.”

The Haitian Prime Minister estimates several hundred thousands of people may be dead. Only one hospital remains open in Haiti, all hospitals in the region were destroyed by the earthquake.

Jean’s Yéle allows supporters to donate easily to the organization’s Haiti Earthquake Fund. The money will be deducted directly from the user’s cell phone bill.

According to his Twitter, the former Fugees singer and Goodwill Ambassador to Haiti is currently en route to the country.

Others are also organizing mobile relief efforts. Singer Danny Gokey, the third place finalist on last season’s American Idol, has followed suit, facilitating text donations through Sophia’s Heart of Compassion, his own nonprofit. The Red Cross is also calling for people to text to donate $10 to their relief fund.