Some Democratic presidential campaigns are offering up a personal call from the candidate to entice their small donors to give. Phone vendors are questioning whether it’s legitimate outreach.
Candidates dialing up donors to shake loose cash from rainmakers is nothing new. The twist this cycle, at least on the Democratic side, is that small-dollar donors are potentially more valuable in the early stages of the presidential primary than the traditional well-heeled backer.
To make the stage at one of the DNC-hosted debates, one criteria is that a candidate has 65,000 individual donors, including at least 200 from 20 states. To help their candidates reach that milestone, campaigns are offering up the personal call without the big-money price tag attached.
The Sanders campaign used the occasion of hitting its 1 millionth donor as a chance to dangle a call from the senator to potential contributors.
“Bernie’s going to call the person who gives contribution number 1,000,000. I know it’s not why you give, but it’d be cool if it was you,” Sanders manager Faiz Shakir wrote in an April 11 email.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren is another Democratic presidential candidate emailing supporters offering to chat.
“Usually, ‘call time’ on a campaign looks like candidates spending hours each week on the phone asking wealthy donors for big fat checks,” Team Warren wrote in a recent email April 9. “Not on this campaign. … Make your first contribution today to own a piece of this campaign, keep your phone handy, and you just might see a call from an unknown number. … An unknown number? Who could this be? … [I]t’s Elizabeth Warren!”
The fact that the emails warn about the call coming from an unknown number could serve to help boost a paid phones program as Warren supporters are now more keyed into answering unusual calls. Still, some phones vendors said they’re skeptical of this tactic.
“My grandmother, til her dying day, thought that Bill Clinton had called her and had saved the recording,” said Marty Stone, a long-time Democratic phones consultant.
Stone speculated that some campaigns could be using an email like Warren’s as cover to drop a ring-less voicemail—an FCC no-no—onto supporters’ phones. “If it is a one off, calling the 100,000th person, it is probably legitimate,” said Stone. “If they claim to have called a lot of the small donors and solely left messages on landlines, it would be compliant with the FCC.”
Calling cell phones, though, is a different story.
“If they are calling cell phones and only [leaving] messages on cell phones, they are violating FCC rules and doing ‘ring-less voicemail,’” Stone said. “The firms doing it will say they have a lawyer letter stating that it is OK to do ring-less voice mail, but the FCC and the courts have been clear about it.”