Big election seasons are sometimes accompanied by fast tech maturation, whether it's social media or the web itself. The need to quickly accumulate votes, bring like-minded citizens together, and raise money is a natural fit for field testing and adoption of new tools.
Mobile payments is quickly becoming a hot technology for the 2012 election cycle, as the Obama and Romney campaigns' use of Square to raise money is spreading to other politicians and other payment firms.
Intuit's GoPayment is another option for quickly collecting campaign cash. GoPayment can be downloaded from Apple's App store or the Android marketplace.
"We saw the same needs as small businesses for mobile payments. When you're going door to door or are at an event, people don't always have cash or checks to make a payment, so they miss out on an opportunity to contribute," says Sharna Brockett, a manager for Intuit (INTU).
Intuit ships card reader hardware that attaches to the audio jack of the phone, and enables the donation collector to log into the campaign's account from a mobile app. Donors swipe their cards though the reader and are sent a receipt by email or text, with a GPS-driven map that shows the donor and the campaign when and where the transaction took place. Campaigns can add multiple staff members or volunteers to a single GoPayment account, and administrators can monitor multiple transactions via an online dashboard that tracks progress, exports data and sets different permission levels for different users.
Mobile payments are positioned as an easy way to collect funds and an advancement over earlier phone-heavy fundraising or staff's efforts to collect people's names while at public events. But the use case is more complicated than that. The laws that govern political fundraising are complex, and frequently change, particularly concerning donor disclosures.
That's required payment app providers to take extra compliance into consideration, meaning the same apps used for small business payments or charitable donations won't necessarily work for political campaigns. The new GoPayment political campaign app includes fields such as donor's name, address and occupation. It also includes a customizable piece that allows for added disclosures based on local laws or the rules governing a particular race. Square says it works with campaigns to ensure compliance.
"On the back end [for campaigns], there's a site to log in and see all transactions and contributions over time, you can download all of that information into Excel and use that firm to file with [the Federal Election Commission]," Intuit's Brockett says.
Brockett says a variety of political organizations, both Democratic and Republican, are using GoPayment and identified the Democratic Senatorial Campaign, Sen Sharrod Brown (Dem., Ohio) and Rep. Shelley Berkley (Dem, Nev.) as current users of the product.
Both candidates could use a boost from access to faster mobile donations. Brown is up against former Ohio State Rep. Josh Mandel, who's considered a strong fundraiser and a rising star in the GOP.
Berkley is running against incumbent Republican Sen. Dean Heller for the U.S. Senate seat in Nevada, and has floated a "deal" to keep third-party cash out of the campaign — a move that would place an increasing importance on the kind of smaller independent donations targeted by GoPayment. Thus far, there's been no deal struck, though a similar agreement has been reached in Massachusetts, where incumbent Republican Senator Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren have agreed to not use third-party cash. The definition of third party cash can be a bit vague in politics, but the deals are mostly designed to limit the use of money from large out-of-state donors.