Romney camp to use smartphone gadget Square to turn average supporters into micro-bundlers

Advances in technology have usually corresponded with new and easier ways for political campaigns to identify and engage potential voters.

Social media transformed the presidential race in 2008. The Internet has been used since its inception to keep voters informed and, if possible, to elicit online donations from them.

This year's no different.

Romney's campaign is hoping to use smartphones to turn average supporters into micro-bundlers, collecting small-dollar donations from anywhere.

The campaign announced Friday it will use Square - a small device attached to smart phones that can function like a credit card machine - on a broader basis, beginning with the Republican National Convention in Tampa next week.

Since the technology behind Square is relatively new, the Obama and Romney campaigns have been running pilot programs since the beginning of the year, testing its ability to turn event attendees into invested donors.

But with its rollout, the Romney campaign is making a large bet that micro donations through mobile devices are the wave of the future.

"Your entire job is to give people the tools to go out and empower themselves," Romney campaign Digital Director Zac Moffatt said, discussing the potential impact of Square on campaign donations. "All we're doing is empowering people to be engaged at the level they want."

This year, fundraising has been a central focus for the campaigns in a race expected to be the most expensive in history. Romney has outraised Obama, who in 2008 capitalized on small-dollar donations on the Internet at proportions never seen before.

The technology essentially gives any supporter the ability to become a mobile low-dollar bundler, flipping the traditional fundraising scheme on its head. Phones fitted with Square and the accompanying application easily allow donations or the ability to purchase merchandise from an on-line store. Payments are automatically transferred into the campaign's bank account the next business day.

Supporters will disperse around the country post-convention, bringing with them these devices and the potential to raise millions of dollars from their local communities.

Emphasizing the growing importance of mobile donations, President Obama's campaign this week announced it would accept donations via text messages, becoming the first campaign to use this technology. Supporters will be able to donate up to $50, with the charges showing up on their telephone bills.

This is in addition to the Square devices already handed out to staff, volunteers, and field crews, which the campaign says have been successful.