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

cmdi | Mon Jan 23, 2023

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.