Maximizing Points on Political Donations

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Has July 4 got you feeling patriotic and ready to donate to your candidate of choice for the upcoming 2012 elections? Well, the election season is really starting to heat up along with the summer temperatures, and even Frank Bruni recently wrote an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times about the changing nature of political campaigns, the impact of super PACs and their outsize resources, and the ballooning size of the average political donation.

That said, ordinary individuals can still donate directly to their politicians and campaigns of choice in more ways than ever, including by credit card, so why not put those donations on a credit card that earns you some points at the same time?

The Rules
In order to make political donations as an individual directly to a campaign, you have to adhere to the following rules and prohibitions:

  1. I am a United States citizen or a lawfully admitted permanent resident of the United States.
  2. This contribution is not made from the general treasury funds of a corporation, labor organization or national bank.
  3. This contribution is not made from the treasury of an entity or person who is a federal contractor.
  4. This contribution is not made from the funds of a political action committee.
  5. This contribution is not made from the funds of an individual registered as a federal lobbyist or a foreign agent, or an entity that is a federally registered lobbying firm or foreign agent.
  6. I am not a minor under the age of 16 (Note: The Romney campaign requires donors to be 18 years of age or older).
  7. The funds I am donating are not being provided to me by another person or entity for the purpose of making this contribution.

According to the Federal Election Commission site, individuals can donate up to a maximum of $2,500 per primary and per campaign for federal candidates, and then after that if you choose to donate more, you usually have to do so through a joint campaign fund a candidate forms with his or her party’s general committee. You can donate up to $30,800 per calendar year to national party committees, $10,000 per calendar year to state, district and local party committees and $5,000 per calendar year to any other political committee. So that breaks down to $46,200 maximum to all candidates and $70,800 to all PACs and parties.

Married couples are considered as two separate individuals for the purposes of campaign donations. Foreign nationals cannot contribute to any candidate or party. Donations are not tax-deductible.

The great thing is that the campaigns pay for the credit card fees so if you are going to donate anyway, you might as well do it with a credit card to earn points! However, just know that somewhere between 1 and 2.9% fee on every transaction goes towards fees, so your candidate isn’t seeing every single dollar your send his or her way.

Donating directly through a candidate’s own site is easy and generally secure

Maximizing Points
So since you don’t get dinged with any fees, what’s the best card to use? To my knowledge, there are none that specifically give category spend bonuses for political donations, so I’d personally us the Chase Freedom card which, if you have a Chase Checking account, will give a 10% bonus plus 10 points per transaction.  The smallest donation you can make to the Obama campaign is $3, so if you were going to donate $150, to maximize your points, you could do it in 50 increements of $3- each would net you the 10 point transaction bonus plus 10 points, or 14 points x 50 = 700 points or a 5x multiplier on your spend.
The Romney campaign actually allows $1 donations so a $150 donation done in 150 $1 increments would net you 1,800 points! A 12x return on your spend. I’m going to refrain from any political commentary on this scenario, but feel free to comment below!

If you don’t have the Freedom card you could also use the Ink Bold card which offers 5x points at office supply stores (like Office Max and Staples) and then buy Visa gift cards for a 5x return on your donation. If you are a big donator, you might as well put it on the American Express Premier Rewards Gold, which gives a 15,000 point bonus when you spend $30,000, essentially giving 1.5 points per dollar for that spend. The Chase British Airways Visa will give a companion award ticket at $30,000 in spend (plus 100,000 miles if you are a new cardholder).

Caveat Donor
As with any credit card transaction, identity theft and fraud is a major concern. Though the way to ensure your candidate gets the most of your donation possible, is to give through their website, many of these lack even basic security features according to this Yahoo Finance article—Obama’s campaign site has a lock icon implying security, but no verification codes or anything that I could see.

The same for super PACs (one supporting Mitt Romney apparently had no security at all until recently). So if you do contribute through a website, be sure to take the same steps as you would when shopping online to make sure your connection is secure, including looking for “https” in the site address.

Many campaign donation pages, including the Obama campaign’s, don’t verify your information, so be sure your transaction is secure.

Also remember that political campaigns are usually just temporary set-ups so if you’re concerned about your data, ask what happens to it after the campaign is over and where it will be stored. You might not be able to find many answers, unfortunately, but it’s worth inquiring.

The good news is that the new trend in political donations, using mobile card readers such as Square, is actually very secure. You just have to be sure the person you’re giving your card to scan is actually with the campaign!

Another important thing to note: when you give $200 or more per election cycle, your contribution must be listed publicly by law in a federal database where anyone can look it up.

Even in our fast-changing age of ever superior technology, the safest way to donate is still by mailing in a check, but that doesn’t earn you any points! Most credit card companies have cardholder protections against fraud, so if you’re planning on donating to political campaigns this election year, consider putting those expenses on a points-earning card  so you can earn something back on your donation.

Disclosure: The images used in this post are solely for illustrative purposes, and are in no way an endorsement of any candidate.

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