Square Off: Obama and Romney Use Square for Fundraising


The one with the best technology usually wins the battle. We saw this in the 2008 presidential election, when social media became a huge game-changing technology that made an enormous difference in the outcome of the race.

 Presidential candidates such as Barack Obama, Ron Paul and John McCain used the power of social media sites, as well as video, SMS and mobile advertising to supercharge their campaigns. Now in the 2012 presidential election, mobile payments are altering the way campaigns collect money for candidates.

President Obama’s re-election campaign is using Square, to raise funds and collect mobile donations. The campaign’s staff, field organizers and volunteers are being equipped with Square card readers that plug to the audio jack of their iPhone, iPad or Android phones so they can accept contributions from supporters. The name Square comes from the plastic card readers which are square in shape.

“Squares are being sent to our campaign offices across the country,” said Katie Hogan, spokeswoman for the Obama reelection campaign. “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.”

To donate money to the campaign, supporters need to give their name, address and zip code. This data can be used by the campaign to target supporters who already contributed but might be interested in contributing more. Aside from Square, Obama also has mobile ads pointing to a mobile site that allows voters to easily donate money.

Not to be outdone, Republican contender Mitt Romney’s campaign has also announced that they are using Square to collect mobile payment donations. “We’re going to be testing it in Florida to see how it works and then hope to roll it out in the rest of the country,” the Romney campaign’s digital director Zac Moffat said. “Anything that reduces the barrier to donate is going to help us with our supporters.”

Like Paypal, Square simplifies accepting payments, except it is used for real life situations rather than over the internet. Square allows people to make donations from their smart phones by swiping their debit or credit cards on the Square device or by entering the card information manually on the phone.

Square allows workers and volunteers to collect donations for the campaign. The collectors can accept donations on behalf of the campaign without having access to the money or the information, making it a safe way to accept contributions.

Square, Inc. is a start-up company by Jim McKelvey and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey. “What do @BarackObama and @MittRomney have in common? Both are using @Square to raise funds for their campaigns,” Dorsey tweeted.

Political fundraising plays an important role in getting elected into office. Most of the time, the candidate who raises and spends the most money wins the election. These funds are spent on campaign materials such as TV airtime, billboards, posters, leaflets, pins and other signs, as well as the many everyday expenses a campaign has, including accommodations, transportation, event catering, event space, entertainment and more.

Before the advent of mobile fundraising, candidates raised money through newspaper ads, TV commercials, billboards, direct mailings and during rallies. They also raise money through sit-down dinners with expensive per-plate fees to attract wealthy donors who wish to express their interests to the candidate.

In previous elections, online fundraising played a vital role in campaign success, often depending on the willingness of the contributor to go to a computer and donate. With the availability of mobile payments, the contributor can donate money right then and there, from their mobile phones.

With Square, donations can be done at rallies and sites, while the people are still pumped about their candidates. Aside from the immediacy and simplicity of payment, Square also cuts down the time it takes to process a donation.

“Online is still going to be the biggest deal for fundraising, but Square is a digital collection platform that can be used wherever candidates have an event,” said Jonathan Stark, VP of application architecture at Mobiquity Inc., Wellesley, MA. “It is primarily a win in terms of in-persona transactions because not everyone carries cash with them, but everyone has a credit card on them.”

Over 1 million merchants use Square’s Verisign certified and PCI compliant technology. Square provides card readers free to users and a free app is available for download at the App Store or Android Market. Square charges a fee of 2.75% on every transaction. Aside from accepting contributions, Square can also send paperless receipts by email or SMS.


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