Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Campaign Finance Reform Just Doesn't Rouse Public

The majority of Americans support campaign finance reform -- but not ardently enough to pressure politicians into doing anything about it, according to a recent article in The Washington Post's The Fix blog. A March 2012 Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 69% of those surveyed, across political affiliations, supported banning Super PACs, for example. A CBS News-New York Times poll in January also found that 67% of respondents thought groups unaffiliated with a candidate should not be able to spend unlimited funds on advertisements. Yet voters don't seem to care deeply enough to put pressure on politicians. Campaign finance was ranked 21st in priority out of 22 political issues in a January Pew Research Center poll, edging out only global warming, the blog article points out. Without a sense of urgency on Capitol Hill, the chances for passage of campaign finance reform bills were seen as "slim" by experts interviewed. As a clear sign of the back-burner status of campaign regulation, the article notes that, as of its publication date, all the members of the Federal Election Commission were serving on expired terms. For more, see http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2013/04/30/why-dont-americans-care-more-about-campaign-finance-reform/?wprss=rss_national

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Nonprofit Political Spending Under New Scrutiny

Senate hearings, a watchdog lawsuit, an IRS questionnaire and SEC deliberations are placing nonprofit spending on political campaigns under the microscope, according to a recent Bloomberg news story. Nonprofit 501(c)(4) "social welfare" groups, such as Obama-supporter-founded Priorities USA and conservative Karl Rove-inspired Crossroads GPS, have proliferated and spent more than $300 million on the 2012 election campaign, a 280% bump from the previous presidential election, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Now the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations is querying Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials on their failure to check nonprofit spending on partisan politics, reports Bloomberg. At the same time, the Washington-based watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics is suing the IRS to force a ban on 501(c)(4) nonprofit political spending. Current federal law requires these nonprofits to be operated exclusively for social welfare activities, but IRS regulations require only that such groups are "primarily engaged" in promoting social welfare and "the common good." Some organizations have interpreted this IRS language to mean they can collect donations and spend on political action as long as the expenditures make up less than 50% of their outlay. The IRS is moving carefully on the issue, according to the Bloomberg story. It recently asked about engagement in political campaigns on a questionnaire sent to 1,300 nonprofits claiming tax-exempt status. Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission is considering a rule requiring publicly traded companies to disclose donations to nonprofits, including those channeling big dollars into partisan issues. The issue is definitely heating up, so watch for more legal challenges of nonprofit spending on politics and failure to disclose donors, predicted experts cited in the story. For more detail, see http://www.campaignlegalcenter.org/index.php?option=com_content&id=2099:april-16-2013-bloomberg-senate-scrutiny-of-nonprofits-spurring-disclosure-taxes-&Itemid=62

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Donors Aren't Flocking to Obama Advocacy Group

Organizing for Action, the advocacy group launched in January to support President Obama's second-term agenda on issues like immigration and gun control, has attracted just a fraction of the donors from Obama's re-election campaign so far. OFA, which is a nonprofit social welfare group and so without the strict limits placed on individual contributors to an election campaign, raised $4.9 million in the first quarter of this year, an amount dwarfed by the more than $1 billion drummed up by Obama's re-election effort. And it may be an interesting comment on the post-election fundraising challenge that Obama's generous Hollywood supporters, like Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, have not yet turned out for OFA.  Meanwhile, the new advocacy group claimed "grassroots" strength and reported 109,582 donors and an average donation of $44 for the first quarter; it also voluntarily released the names of the 1,428 donors who gave $250 or more. For more, see the USA Today report at http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/04/12/organizing-for-action-president-obama-fundraising/2077201/

Thursday, April 18, 2013

ATTN Obama Twitter Followers: It's Not From Obama

Barack Obama, the first sitting President with a Twitter account, has over 29 million Twitter followers, but do most of those fans realize that the account is no longer run by the President and his staff? Shortly after the recent election, Barack Obama's campaign handed over management of social media accounts, including Twitter and Facebook, to a newly formed entity called Organizing for Action, a 501 (c)(4) nonprofit. Like its conservative counterparts, such as Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, Organizing for Action (OFA) can't advocate or seek donations for a particular candidate, but it can independently advocate and raise funds for social issues and public policy, such as gun control legislation, or even causes not supported by President Obama in theory. Nonpartisan OFA should not to be confused, despite the similar initials, with Obama for America, the campaign organization that managed social media communications during Obama's first campaign, first term, and second run for office. It's all legal, but some may wonder about the gray areas introduced by political use of social media. Is it ethical to quietly hand over a valuable political online identity to a nonpartisan outside group? Is it ethical that @BarackObama Twitter followers may think they're hearing from the Oval Office when they are really getting messages from an independent nonprofit? For an in-depth discussion, see the recent story by Philip Bump for The Atlantic Wire at http://www.theatlanticwire.com/politics/2013/04/youre-not-following-barackobama-twitter/63930/

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

GOP Warns Against FCC Political-Ad Disclosure Rule

GOP senators warned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in an April letter that the agency should avoid passing new rules requiring disclosure of those funding political ads. The letter to the FCC commissioners was in response to a Senate Commerce Oversight hearing last month in which Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.) urged the commissioners to do via rule-making what Congress has failed to achieve legislatively. The FCC letter was signed by more than a dozen GOP members of the Senate Commerce Committee, as well as minority leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.). After the Citizen's United decision by the Supreme Court, which lifted a ban on corporate and union funding of campaign ads, Democrats responded by introducing the Disclose Act in 2010 and reintroducing it in 2012, but the bill failed to pass. Converting the bill's intent into an FCC rule would take the the agency beyond its statutory role to "weigh in on a partisan political dispute," which would "seriously undermine the integrity of the commission and imperil its independence," the GOP letter argued. For the news story, see http://www.adweek.com/news/television/gop-fcc-dont-take-political-ad-disclosures-148531

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Political Power: Ads That Toppled a Dictator

If you doubt the power of astute political marketing, you need to see the Oscar-nominated film about the "No" ad campaign that led to the ouster of Chile's General Augusto Pinochet and his violent military regime. A recent Direct Marketing News article -- titled "Best Political Marketing Campaign Ever?" -- calls attention to that story. Although the film can be criticized as a fictionalization rather than a documentary of the campaign, anyone in the business of marketing a candidate or a cause may find its tale, including actual ad footage, instructive. The event that inspired the movie occurred in 1988, when Pinochet bowed to international pressure after 15 years of oppressive rule and agreed to hold a plebiscite vote on the legitimacy of his power. Each side was allowed 15 minutes of free airtime a day to make the case for or against the Pinochet junta. Pro-Pinochet ads focused on fear (including fear of Marxist enemies), while the "No" campaign used a rainbow logo, upbeat images and music, and the tagline “Chile, happiness is coming!” The anti-Pinochet campaign ending up winning 56% of the vote. Of course, more was involved than advertising to accomplish this bloodless coup, but even jaded marketers may find inspiration in the power of positive political branding. For more, see the article at http://www.dmnews.com/best-political-marketing-campaign-ever-the-ads-that-ousted-pinochet/article/285979/#

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

2012 Nonprofit E-mail, Online Fundraising Grew

Nonprofit fundraising via online and e-mail showed strong growth in 2012, according to new research by M+R Strategic Services and Nonprofit Technology Network. Its "2013 eNonprofit Benchmarks" study found that 2012 e-mail lists grew by 15% over the prior year and online revenue grew by 21%, with monthly online giving up 43%. Social media followers soared, too, as nonprofit Twitter followers increased by 264% and Facebook fans went up by 46%. Still, social media impact was dwarfed by e-mail contacts, with only 149 Facebook fans and 53 Twitter followers for every 1,000 e-mail subscribers in 2012. But here's the bad news for nonprofits: E-mail response rates also declined by 21% last year compared to 2011, due to a 27% dip in click-through rates. For more on the study, see the AdvisorOne report at http://www.advisorone.com/2013/04/01/nonprofits-online-fundraising-grew-21-in-2012

Thursday, April 4, 2013

PayPal to Release New Mobile Giving Platform

PayPal-enabled nonprofits will soon benefit from a new mobile-optimized donate screen, according to a recent Huffington Post story. Donors via PayPal will be prompted by the new screen, which aims at making the mobile-giving process smoother, cleaner and more user-friendly. It is doubtless a response to a 242% growth in the value of mobile donations processed by PayPal between 2011 and 2012. The new PayPal feature is in beta test and slated for release this year, per the report. For more, see the story at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/26/mobile-giving-ebay_n_2958521.html

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Facebook's Zuckerberg Starting Advocacy Group

Social media and online-tech leaders are flexing their political muscle. Clear proof is that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is starting a political advocacy group of technology leaders, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. Per the WSJ story, Zuckerberg and group co-organizer Joe Green, Zuckerberg's former Harvard University roommate, have already received monetary pledges from other heavyweight tech executives, including LinkedIn Corp. founder Reid Hoffman. They have also enlisted savvy political operatives such as Rob Jessmer, former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Joe Lockhart, former press secretary under President Bill Clinton and former Facebook vice president of global communications. The advocacy group, which has not chosen a name, aims at raising $50 million to lobby for federal legislative reform on issues ranging from immigration to education, according to WSJ sources. The group plans to register as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit social welfare group. Stay tuned for an official announcement of this new incarnation of targeted online and social networking power. For the full story, see http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324105204578384781088854740.html