The CMDI Blog

Caging: What Happens to Political Donations Once You Mail Them?

Posted by on Sep 22, 2016 in The Blog | 0 comments

Caging: What Happens to Political Donations Once You Mail Them?

Caging: What Happens to Political Donations Once You Mail Them

In the months leading up to a presidential election, you’ve probably noticed an increase in the political mail arriving at your home. While some of these pieces are educational, persuasion or Get Out The Vote mailers, the bulk of it is likely a request for a donation from a candidate or a PAC. Once you’ve made the decision to contribute, sign a personal check and then mail it, what happens to this contribution? What does it take for this donation to get deposited for the candidate’s use?

The campaign to which you are donating will likely have hired a vendor – like CMDI – to handle what is known as “caging” or “secure response management”.  This is a direct mail term which refers to the process of picking up mailed-in donations from the Post Office, processing the payments, updating the mailing list and providing any needed FEC compliance services. By contracting these services to a third-party vendor, the campaign saves time and money by hiring experts familiar with the intricacies of FEC compliance and accounting.

What is involved in the caging process?

1. Donations are picked up from the campaign’s P.O. Box at the Post Office.
If you look at the business reply envelope (BRE) accompanying the donation request, you’ll notice that it’s addressed to a postal box. The vendor will check the P.O. Box each day for new donations that need to be processed and deposited.

2. Donations are sorted and opened in a secure facility.
When looking at the BRE accompanying the letter, you might see a code above the name and address. Mailed donations will sorted according to the envelope’s code, or by another method designated by the campaign such as color or size.

3. Donations are organized into prospect and house categories.
There are two main types of donors in political fundraising – prospect and house donors. A house donor is anyone who has previously donated to the campaign or organization. A prospective donor is one who fits an identified donor profile but has not previously contributed to the campaign.

4. Donations are checked for FEC compliance.
This is the most critical step for federal-level campaigns. Experienced vendors train their staff to verify that every check is made out to the correct committee name, signed, and follows FEC regulations.

  • Checks and Credit Cards
    Caging staff check to make sure the checks are made out to the correct committee name and signed. They also verify that the contribution is not over the designated limit and flag checks written from business accounts. Donations can’t be made from an incorporated business — even from small business owners who share a bank account with their business — but rather from a personal account. These donations are flagged and followed up by compliance staff with FEC “best efforts” procedures.
  • Cash
    The FEC limits cash donations to $100 per political committee, and anonymous cash donations are capped at $50. Any cash donations exceeding this amount must be followed up with “best efforts” compliance procedures.

5. Donations are deposited.
During this step, all checks are scanned and digitally archived. Checks and cash are then deposited at the bank, and credit cards are processed following secure PCI standards.

6. Donation records are added to the candidate database.
Using the reply form accompanying the payment information, the data entry team updates the donor’s record in Crimson. They check for changes in the name and address, enter the amount of the donation, potential duplicates in the database, the type of donation, and the appeal from which it came. If a donation comes from a household, it is attributed to one individual in order to comply with FEC rules.

These records are then accessed in Crimson in order to file FEC reports, check for donors who might be over limits, and provide invaluable information for the campaign.

7. Donations are archived.
All physical documents that are mailed by the donor, such as the reply card and check, are archived in a secure off-site location for a certain period of time. All data entered into Crimson is also archived to a secure cloud.

Learn More About Crimson on September 14

Posted by on Sep 13, 2016 in The Blog, Webinars | 0 comments

Learn More About Crimson on September 14

Are you a new Crimson user? Join CMDI on Wednesday, September 14 for an introductory webinar.

The Crimson Support Team will provide a general overview of Crimson features in this 60 minute session that includes time for Q&A.

If you would like to join the webinar, please RSVP by completing this short form

Crimson Webinar on September 14, 2016 | CMDI.com

How First-time Candidates Can Build a Mailing List

Posted by on Sep 1, 2016 in The Blog | 0 comments

How First-time Candidates Can Build a Mailing List

How First-time Candidates Can Build a Mailing List | CMDI.com

The first time a candidate runs for public office, it can be hard to know where to start! Fundraising may seem especially daunting. Often, candidates raise money through direct mail, but where do you get the mailing list of names to contact? Incumbents can rely on lists of previous donors, but first-time candidates don’t have this luxury. They need to identify potential supporters before they can even ask for contributions.

Here are some ideas on how first-time candidates can build up their mailing lists: 

• Friends and Family: For many first-time candidates, the first step of a campaign is to send a “friends and family letter.” As the name implies, candidates send these letters to let their friends and family know that they are running, ask for support and even fundraise. Friends and family will often make up a candidate’s most dedicated volunteers. While they might be able to provide some initial funds, you will probably need to reach out to other donors.

• Events: Early in the campaign, most first-time candidates begin hosting events, like lunches and coffee chats. For your supporters, these events provide a chance to introduce their own friends and family to your campaign. You also meet potential supporters when you attend or speak at local political events. Every time you host or attend an event, be sure to bring a sign-up sheet to collect the names, emails and mailing addresses of new supporters who want to get involved in your campaign. You can later use these lists for fundraising mailings!

• Your Predecessor: Consider asking for a list of donors from the last candidate from your party to run for the office. He or she might be willing to help. Keep in mind, though, that a current officeholder may choose not to get involved in a contested primary. For a statewide race, however, you could try reaching out to former candidates for various offices.

• Party Committees: State and local party committees can also be a great resource. They might be able to provide a list of potential donors. Of course, during a contested primary, party committees are likely to be unable to help.

Prospecting Lists: If you’re not able to find a free list of potential donors, consider renting a prospecting list from a list broker. For example, if you were running for senate, you could consider renting a fundraising list used by a gubernatorial candidate from your party last election cycle. By working with a list broker, you can access a donor list even if you don’t personally know the candidate who created it.

• Voter Files: Any candidate can get access to voter files, usually through the local county board of elections or a third-party vendor. While these files often come with a fee, they can be very useful. In voter files, you can see voters’ names, addresses and voting histories. The more frequently a person votes, the more likely he or she is to donate to a campaign. In states with party registration, you can even see voters’ party affiliations. That way, you can identify members of your party who are consistent voters – a great potential donor list!

• Be careful: Keep in mind that federal regulations prevent you from collecting names and addresses from other candidates’ campaign finance reports for you own fundraising efforts.

• Build for the future: Fundraising may be a challenge the first time you run for office. Remember that, in the future, you will be able to draw on this hard work and use the great fundraising list you will have created!

Feature of the Month: Reconcile Accounts with MeS Reports

Posted by on Aug 31, 2016 in Feature of the Month, The Blog | 0 comments

Feature of the Month: Reconcile Accounts with MeS Reports

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Reconciling credit card totals can be a challenge for compliance and treasury staff on political campaigns. Crimson now offers four different credit card reconciliation reports to make the process easier.

All four reports reconcile transaction information from Merchant e-Solutions (MeS) reports with data from Crimson. These MeS reports were previously only available online through the MeS website but can now be directly accessed through Crimson. Crimson developers also customized the reports to make it easier to find transactions and donor details.

Here’s how to access and run the new MeS reports in Crimson:

1. From your Crimson account, click on the Compliance menu on the left and select CC Reconciliation.

Crimson MeS Reports | CMDI.com

Note: If you are processing credit cards through Crimson and do not see this option, please contact the Crimson Support Team.

A new screen will open with a filter to help you run the right report.

Crimson MeS reports | CMDI.com

3. Enter the following information to be able to run an MeS Credit Card Reconciliation Report:

  • Select the Fund Code you want to filter with (ie. P2016, G2016, etc.).
  • Select the Account Code you want to filter with.
    • If you’re not using different account codes in Crimson, select the default of “N/A – N/A”.
  • Enter a Batch Date range for the credit card transactions (ie. 5/1/2016 – 5/31/2016).
  • Enter the MeS ID, which is identical to the MeS Merchant #, and then the MeS Password.*

4. Once all of the search criteria has been entered, select which report you would like to generate.

Crimson MeS Reports | CMDI.com

Note, if you don’t know your MeS ID/MeS Merchant # and/or your MeS Password, please contact support at CrimsonSupport@cmdi.com to obtain that information.

MeS Reports Available in Crimson:

• Reconciliation Report
This report compares the totals for credit card transactions for each day that falls within the selected range. The report will display the total processed for each card type according to the Crimson database compared to what is reported by MeS daily.

This report is helpful when you are having trouble reconciling deposits in transit — transactions that were processed near the end of one reporting period and/or at the beginning of another.

• MeS Batch Summary
This report displays batch totals according to MeS for each credit card type. It shows total counts and amounts for each card type as well as totals for any merchant credits or refunds that were processed via MeS’ online portal.

This report does not show daily totals. Instead it displays the totals for the entire date range entered into the criteria.

• MeS Batch Detail
This report displays the MeS details for all individual transactions that match the criteria you have entered in the filters. In addition to displaying the transaction details from Crimson (e.g. batch number, batch date, card type, authorization code, amount, etc.), you can also click the links under Crimson Tran# to view the corresponding Crimson money record.

• MeS Chargeback
This report pulls MeS chargebacks that were submitted by donors in your Crimson database. In addition to the chargeback details normally shown through the reports on MeS’ online portal, you can:

  • Click on the Crimson Tran# to see the original transaction for which the chargeback was submitted.
  • Click on Crimson CB Tran# to view the chargeback adjustment record in Crimson and confirm that it was handled properly.

Making a Mailing List

Posted by on Aug 29, 2016 in The Blog | 0 comments

Making a Mailing List

Helping clients create fundraising mailings is one of CMDI’s most important services. Here’s a look at how we actually produce them!

First steps:

1. A dataset: Before we can create a mailing list, the client must have a donor dataset. If the candidate has run for office before, the campaign should have a list of the donors who have given in the past. The dataset should include the donor names, addresses and giving histories. The number and dollar amounts of donors’ gifts are important information!

First-time candidates might not have their own data, but they usually start building their own lists with the help of their county or state party and by collecting emails and addresses at campaign events. They can also rent a “prospecting list,” as explained below.

2. Clean your data: CMDI provides data hygiene services, which help clients make sure that their donor databases are as clean as possible. We run a “dupe check” to identify any duplicate donor records. Donors who appear more than once in the database will receive more than one copy of every mailing. Mailing duplicates is not only frustrating for donors, but also adds unnecessary expenses for campaigns. We also check our clients’ datasets against the National Change of Address (NCOA) database. If a campaign last used its fundraising list in an election 2-6 years ago, some donors have probably moved since the list was last updated.

3. Rent lists to grow: Some first-time candidates, and other clients who want to expand their fundraising efforts, rent “prospecting lists” from a list broker. Their goal is to reach out to supporters who haven’t donated yet. These lists are essentially other candidates’ donor databases developed during previous campaigns. For example, a senate campaign could rent a donor list that belonged to a candidate for governor in the same state. If a client decides to build a mailing list from more than one dataset, we run a “merge purge.” Most likely, there will be overlap between the lists, since donors often give to more than one campaign. Merge-purges find and delete duplicate records.

Making a mailing list:

1. Segment Data: To create a mailing list from a donor dataset, we first “segment,” or divide, the dataset into different categories of donors. We assign a “mail code” to each category. We code donors who made one contribution in the last election cycle separately from donors who made more than one contribution. We also segment the dataset by contribution amounts – such as 0-$50, $50-$200, and more than $200.

2. Flag records: We flag the records of donors who the campaign might not want to receive mail. Donors marked as deceased or donors who have asked to be removed from the mailing list are usually flagged. Sometimes, we flag other types of records. Maybe a candidate doesn’t want to mail anyone who lives in his or her opponent’s zip code. Clients can choose to “suppress” flagged donor records so that they aren’t included in a mailing list.

3. Target donors & voters: Next, we discuss with the client exactly which donors the campaign wants to reach. Clients usually don’t want to mail every donor in the database at once. When the client chooses which types of donors to include in a mailing, we put together a list of mail codes that represent those “segments” of the dataset. Our clients also choose which “suppressions” they want to exclude from the mailing list.

4. Experience counts: To build a mailing list, we “pull” the donor records from the mail codes our client chose include and “suppress” the records with the flags that the client chose exclude. It is very important that this step of the process be carried out by an experienced programmer. Otherwise, it would be easy to accidentally create duplicate records. For example, a donor might be included in one mail code for contributing twice during the last election and a different mail code for contributing once during this election cycle. We prioritize the mail codes to make sure that each donor record is only pulled once.

The cycle continues:

CMDI’s services don’t end once a fundraising mailing has been sent. We offer caging and data entry services to process the contributions that campaigns receive in response. We update the client’s dataset so that it includes the latest donations. If a client is renting a prospecting list, we label the return forms so that we can easily tell which donors are already included in the client’s database and which need to be added. It’s important to keep the client’s fundraising dataset up-to-date and ready for the next mailing!

New Feature: MeS Credit Card Reconciliation Reports

Posted by on Aug 22, 2016 in News & Announcements, Product News, The Blog | 0 comments

New Feature: MeS Credit Card Reconciliation Reports

New Feature | CMDI.com

If you use WidgetMakr or if you have a Merchant e-Solutions (MeS) account linked to your Crimson database, there are several reports now available to make it easier to reconcile credit card transactions processed through your merchant account.

A merchant account is a type of bank account that enables your campaign to accept donations through credit or debit cards. These accounts process the credit or debit card payments in order to charge your Visa, Mastercard, Discover or American Express card.

These MeS reports were previously only available online through the MeS website but can now be directly accessed through Crimson. CMDI also customized the reports to make it easier to find transactions and donor details.

In order to access these accounts, you must be processing credit cards through Crimson,  contact the Crimson Support Team to enable access to them, and know your MeS Merchant account number and password.

MeS Reports Available in Crimson:

• Reconciliation Report
This report compares the totals for credit card transactions for each day that falls within the selected range. The report will display the total processed for each card type according to the Crimson database compared to what is reported by MeS daily.

This report is helpful when you are having trouble reconciling deposits in transit — transactions that were processed near the end of one reporting period and/or at the beginning of another.

• MeS Batch Summary
This report displays batch totals according to MeS for each credit card type. It shows total counts and amounts for each card type as well as totals for any merchant credits or refunds that were processed via MeS’ online portal.

This report does not show daily totals. Instead it displays the totals for the entire date range entered into the criteria.

• MeS Batch Detail
This report displays the MeS details for all individual transactions that match the criteria you have entered in the filters. In addition to displaying the transaction details from Crimson (e.g. batch number, batch date, card type, authorization code, amount, etc.), you can also click the links under Crimson Tran# to view the corresponding Crimson money record.

• MeS Chargeback
This report pulls MeS chargebacks that were submitted by donors in your Crimson database. In addition to the chargeback details normally shown through the reports on MeS’ online portal, you can:

  • Click on the Crimson Tran# to see the original transaction for which the chargeback was submitted.
  • Click on Crimson CB Tran# to view the chargeback adjustment record in Crimson and confirm that it was handled properly.

If you have further questions about these reports, please check out the guide on the Crimson Helpdesk or call the Crimson Support Team at 1-800-878-6837.

 

 

Next Crimson Webinars on August 10

Posted by on Aug 3, 2016 in The Blog, Webinars | 0 comments

Next Crimson Webinars on August 10

Crimson webinars in August 2016

RSVP to join our latest monthly Crimson Webinars, hosted by our Senior Support Staff next Wednesday, August 10! Choose to attend one of the following sessions:

Crimson Treasury Features Wednesday at 11 a.m. EDT

A general overview of Crimson’s Treasury features including Expenditures, Other Receipts, Invoices, Check Payments, and Reconciliation tools.

Crimson General Overview Wednesday at 2 p.m. EDT

  • A general overview: People Search, Data Entry, Reports and more
  • Newest features: Recalculate Dashboard button, Crimson ID Tokens, and more.

Please RSVP to receive your calendar invite and webinar information.

Tips from CMDI’s Compliance Experts

Posted by on Aug 2, 2016 in The Blog | 0 comments

Tips from CMDI’s Compliance Experts

Campaign finance regulations can be complicated, and even the most seasoned experts know to expect occasional errors. Our experienced compliance team has learned that the following “best practices” help prevent common mistakes. Here’s some practical advice for campaigns to keep in mind!

  • Coordination: Coordination between a campaign’s treasury and finance departments is very important. Compliance is not the only department that needs to be familiar with FEC regulations! Fundraisers should be informed, as well. They can prevent compliance problems from arising and help the compliance department operate more efficiently. For example, federal regulations ban contributions from corporations and foreign nationals. Fundraisers shouldn’t solicit contributions that the compliance department would later have to refund.
  • Data Hygiene: Data hygiene can also help the compliance department operate effectively. This is especially for true for campaigns that work with large datasets. In general, campaigns should rely on one consolidated database that includes all donor records. That way, duplicate records are easy to identify. Duplicate records make it more difficult for the compliance staff to discover an over-limit contribution before the FEC’s 60-day deadline. This can lead to unnecessary refunds. After the deadline has passed, the over-limit contribution must be refunded rather than simply re-attributed or re-designated.
  • An Ounce of Prevention: Campaigns should be aware of the most common mistakes made by donors. Unfortunately, some issues are hard to avoid. A donor may forget to sign a check or make it out to the wrong committee. Other mistakes can be prevented by solid communication with donors, such as by explaining the various contribution limits for campaigns and PACs. If campaigns remind donors of these limits, they may have fewer over-limit contributions to address later.
  • Check and double check: The most important “best practice” is to always double check. Compliance departments can’t be too careful.
  • Don’t work alone: Finally, it is a good idea to work with a company prepared to offer expert data and compliance services, like CMDI!

Holmes vs. FEC: An Uncertain Future for Primary & General Election Contribution Limits

Posted by on Aug 1, 2016 in FEC, The Blog | 0 comments

Holmes vs. FEC: An Uncertain Future for Primary & General Election Contribution Limits

“Per election” contribution limits restrict how much money donors can contribute to a campaign during the primary and general elections. For the 2016 election cycle, the FEC increased these limits to allow contributions of up to $2,700 in the primary and up to $2,700 in the general election. However, the future of “per election” limits may be uncertain.

A case challenging the constitutionality of these limits is currently being litigated in federal court. In 2014, donors Laura Holmes and Paul Jost filed a case claiming that the “per election” limits abridged their First and Fifth Amendment rights. The district court initially dismissed both claims, but the plaintiffs’ appeal was heard in 2016.

The Center for Competitive Politics, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs, justified the case by explaining that the plaintiffs still wish to abide by contribution limits set by Congress but see the split between primary and general elections as an infringement on their Constitutional rights. According to Allen Dickerson from the Center for Competitive Politics:

“[T]he law allows a contributor to associate with an individual candidate up to $5,200 per election cycle. Ms. Holmes and Mr. Jost will abide by that limit. They do not wish, however, to split their contributions between the primary and general elections in order to fully exercise their associational rights. Instead, they wish to give to candidates challenging incumbents who did not face significant opposition from within their own political party.

First, Holmes and Jost claim that the “per election” limits favor candidates who do not face primary challengers – and their donors. A candidate who did not face a primary opponent can transfer surplus primary funds. Effectively, the candidate could use an entire $5,400 contribution during the general election campaign – based on limits for the 2016 cycle. Conversely, a candidate who faces a primary challenger is likely to spend a $2,700 contribution designated for the primary election during the primary, but he or she can then only accept $2,700 during the general election.

The plaintiffs claim that the resulting “asymmetry” violates the Fifth Amendment. However, the appellate court dismissed this challenge because it arose from FEC regulations regarding the timing of contributions and the transfer of campaign funds, not the limits in the Federal Election Campaign Act.

Secondly, the plaintiffs state that, as donors, they principally wish to support their party’s nominee. They only want to contribute to the campaign during what they consider the most important part of the race, the general election. The donors would like to contribute $5,400, the total amount already permitted, to a candidate’s general election campaign. As a result, they claim that the current “per election” limits infringe on their First Amendment rights to participate in the democratic process through campaign contributions.

A 2014 Wall Street Journal editorial agreed:

“The artificial distinction between primary and general elections also makes it harder for less ideological or partisan donors, who may be less involved in primaries, to make their voices heard in the general election. A glance at the most competitive House races for 2014 shows that nearly all incumbents have a cash-on-hand advantage over challengers. Rigging the donation game for incumbents is no justification for limiting political speech.”

In April 2016, the appellate court decided that the First Amendment challenge was not “wholly unsubstantial” and deserved to move forward in the judicial process. The appellate court returned the case to the district court, which must certify the First Amendment challenge to the court of appeals before a ruling can be issued. While appellate court will hear the question again in the near future, Holmes vs. FEC has the potential to reach the Supreme Court, like many recent  cases involving political contributions.

While the elimination of “per election” contributions seems unlikely, given the uncertainty of the Supreme Court’s makeup, such a ruling is possible. However, current contribution limits will stand for the 2016 cycle. According to the FEC:

  • If a donor contributes more than $2,700 to the primary campaign:
    • The campaign can make a “presumptive re-attribution” to another joint account holder whose name appears on the check, if he or she has not also reached the contribution limit.
    • The campaign may ask the donor for permission to re-designate the surplus funds to the general election campaign.
    • If the donor does not agree to re-designate the funds, the campaign must refund the surplus contribution.

     

  • If a donor designates a contribution to the general election during the primary:
    • These funds should not be spent until after the primary election.

 

  • If a donor designates a contribution to the general election, but the candidate loses the primary:
    • If the candidate plans to seek office again, the campaign may contact donors and ask for permission to re-designate the funds to another campaign committee that belongs to the same candidate.
    • If donors do not agree to re-designate the funds, the committee must refund the contributions.

 

  • If a donor contributes more than $5,400 during an election cycle:
    • The campaign can make a “presumptive re-attribution” to another joint account holder whose name appears on the check, if he or she has not also reached the contribution limit.
    • Otherwise, the campaign must refund the surplus contribution.

For more information, see the FEC candidate guide.

This article was posted for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.

Crimson Feature of the Month: ID Tokens

Posted by on Jul 26, 2016 in Feature of the Month, The Blog | 0 comments

Crimson Feature of the Month: ID Tokens

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ID tokens, one of Crimson’s latest features, associate a unique code with every donor in your Crimson database.  In WidgetMaker, the tokens can be added to widgets using URL parameters. The parameters serve to pre-populate sections of the donation form, such as name and address, based on the information in the donor’s Crimson record. This feature allows donors to make contributions more quickly and easily than ever!

If the Crimson donor record includes donation history and the Giving Matrix feature is enabled in the widget, WidgetMakr will also use this information to customize the suggested contribution levels for each donor. This feature helps campaigns optimize their fundraising efforts by asking for a contribution suitable for each donor.

Here’s how to use ID tokens:

How to Find an ID Token

1. Using the People Search feature in Crimson, enter your desired search criteria and click export. 

2. In the resulting CSV file, find the codes in last column, labeled “IdToken”.

 ID tokens I

To Associate an ID Token with a Widget

1. Open the widget you wish to use.

2. At the end of the URL, enter“?ct=” and then paste the ID token number you want to associate with the widget

ID tokens II

3. The widget will automatically populate the fields for which data is available in Crimson

4. If the Giving Matrix is enabled in WidgetMakr and donor history data is available in Crimson, the suggested contribution levels will adjust based on the donor’s previous contributions.

ID Tokens for Mass Emails
ID tokens can also be incorporated into mass fundraising emails. Your email service provider should have a format for inserting URL parameters or dynamic content inside of an email to customize the information for each recipient.

ID tokens III

For more information, please see the user guide on setting up ID tokens

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