Paid to rally the vote? On Your Side tackles viewer question about political text messages

While this text tactic is relatively new in political campaigns, organizers say it's similar to a door-knocking or phone banking program.
Published: Nov. 4, 2022 at 9:10 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- James Paul has received a lot of political text messages this election season. One in particular caught his attention. “Hi James,” it said. “It’s Alexander with the Progressive Turnout Project. We’re paying Democrats like you $250 a week to rally your friends and family to vote. Interested?”

Paul had never received anything like it, so he contacted On Your Side to find out if it is a legitimate message. “If there was no offer of money, I probably would have deleted it and thought nothing of it, but the fact that somebody offered money, that’s a whole different ballgame,” he said.

So we got to work asking questions. The message came from a real political action committee, and they confirmed it is their message. A spokesperson for the Progressive Turnout Project told us they are investing $500,000 in what it calls a “relational organizing program” in Arizona. The group says people are paid if they complete 35 conversations a week for two weeks.

“While this tactic is relatively new in the campaign space, the premise is still very similar to a door-knocking or phone banking program,” the PAC wrote in an email to On Your Side. “While the concept of relational organizing is not new, we believe it is more important than ever given people have become less and less likely to answer their phones or doors or have a conversation with a stranger.”

“It’s completely legit,” said Matthew Dempsey, a teaching assistant professor at Arizona State University’s School of Politics and Global Studies. “Other campaigns or PACs will hire people to go to a rally and stand behind the president or the candidate or whomever, so this is just sort of a new take on it.”

Dempsey noted PACs, unlike candidates, can essentially spend their money on whatever they want. “There are only so many TV spots they can buy, and at some point, they kind of wash each other out. So they’re having to be a little more creative in terms of what they’re doing, and now we’re seeing them getting folks, just paying regular people to almost campaign for them,” he said.

But voters do have to be cautious about text messages that show up on their phones. “I think it’s a good thing that your viewer reached out,” Dempsey added. “If anyone gets a suspicious text message, look up the PAC on the web. Call their phone number. Don’t ever engage in anything if you’re not sure what it is. We know the prevalence of online scams and texting scams these days, and we don’t want anyone giving their information to get paid to an organization if you aren’t sure who they are.”

According to the Federal Election Commission, if a federal PAC is making disbursements for election-related activity, it is subject to reporting requirements for operating expenditures.