Several weeks ago, President Obama texted me.
The text didn’t include any “LOLs” or photos of First Dog Bo, but it did invite me to enter a sweepstakes for a chance to win a prize that included lunch with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. It also encouraged me to make a donation to his campaign. (As always, there’s no such thing as a free lunch with politicians.) I passed on the sweepstakes, but also realized that this was one of the first times a political campaign committee had personally invited me to enter a sweepstakes — and through my cell phone, no less.
It’s no secret that more businesses use sweepstakes and contests each year. This growth has accelerated dramatically thanks to the public’s widespread access to the Internet. Businesses use the Internet to host these promotions because they increase publicity about their products; streamline the design and implementation process; and, perhaps most importantly, provide the email addresses of potential customers. Those three advantages are as desirable to political campaigns as they are to businesses.
Apparently, the President’s initial sweepstakes must have been successful because he has sponsored two more since. Previously, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sponsored a sweepstakes where the top prize was a photo opportunity with First Lady Michelle Obama.
The benefits of Internet sweepstakes have not escaped the campaign committees for the president’s Republican rivals. Mitt Romney’s campaign committee sponsored a sweepstakes in which the prize was lunch with him and his wife at a Massachusetts burrito restaurant. Like the president, Romney encouraged donations to his campaign, but specifically added that donations weren’t required to enter the sweepstakes. One unique factor of the Romney sweepstakes is that 25 “potential” winners were selected by random drawing. However, following that selection, (and after security clearances) the sponsor got to choose one winner from that group as “best representing, in the sole judgment of Sponsor, Mitt Romney’s support across the country.”
While not a political candidate, radio pundit Rush Limbaugh also recently used a sweepstakes to promote the sale of his bottled tea products. Not to be outdone, the prize he offered was allowing the winner and several friends to sit in on a broadcast of his radio program from his studio in Southern Florida.
Click below if you’re interested in viewing the official rules for all three of these sweepstakes.
- “Dinner with Barack” sweepstakes
- “Grab a Bite With Mitt” promotion
- Rush Limbaugh’s “Two if By Tea” sweepstakes
Each set of rules contains the required “no purchase or contributions necessary” disclaimer, although there may be some question as to how “clear and conspicuous” that notice is presented in the official rules and the email advertisements or messages.
I expect we will see many other candidates in both national and local races use sweepstakes and contests during this election year. It will be interesting to see how campaign committees frame sweepstakes and what prizes will be available. Let us know if you see any novel approaches.
This post was written by retired Thompson Coburn partner Dale Joerling. If you have any questions about the topics discussed in this post, please contact Thompson Coburn partner Hap Burke.