Cellum Insights

How mobile payments are transforming elections

The election for US President is still four days away but it is already widely considered one of the most memorable in American history, if mostly for reasons many would prefer to forget. But it is also shaping up to be another historic “win” for use of cell phones and other mobile devices in the electioneering process, specifically for campaign contributions/donations made “on the go.”


While comprehensive data on the use of mobile devices for campaign donations in the election will only come in after Tuesday’s vote, it appears certain that every relevant metrics will show significant growth over the previous contest in 2012, when around 10% of all contributions were made via mobile. Encouraging this growth is the ever more central role that mobile devices are playing in the lives of voters on the one hand, and a more integrated mobile strategy in political campaigns on the other. And while we are yet to see US-based mobile wallets such as Apple Pay and Android Pay include a donation feature, people do have an increasing number of options for making contributions with mobile devices.

One such option is donation via text message/SMS, which began to gain traction in the previous presidential election, after the US Federal Election Commission approved the use of carrier billing-based donations. (Federal rules strictly regulate how campaigns can receive donations, and the FEC capped contributions at $200 per phone using this method.) Another more recent development was an initiative by Twitter to allow voters to donate via “Tweet” in a partnership with Square, the payments firm which shares a CEO (Jack Dorsey) with the most political of major social networks.

Whatever happens on Tuesday, mobile payments will surely play an even larger role in future elections, both in the US and abroad, where a larger percentage of individuals lead “mobile-only” lifestyles. And this will doubtless likely give a boost to the use of mobile devices for non-political donations.

In fact, various technologies for instantaneous donations have existed for years. Cellum has pioneered mobile wallet-based fundraising solutions using QR codes in a number of markets, which include partnering with a leading bank to help UNICEF’s anti-Ebola campaign and with MasterCard to assist a number of reputable charities in Hungary, as well as with mobile carrier Vivacom in Bulgaria to raise funds for the Red Cross. Due to their ubiquity, mobile devices offer the perfect vehicle for donations, as they give individuals the ability to act immediately on an impulse to give, while also making regular/recurring contributions a possibility. So the technology is definitely there. And then there’s hoping that eventually the well-intentioned contributions are indeed used for the benefit of society.