Bitcoins, micro-payments and merch: fundraising innovation on the campaign trail

Candidates get creative with fundraising for the spring election - even though they have wildly varying budget goals.

Election mugs for sale / Credit: Joonas Könttä.

With the general election only two and a half months away, campaigning is in full swing as parties announce their policy platforms, leaders take part in debates, and candidates try to make themselves as visible as possible.

So how do individual politicians drum up support? For established members of parliament, or ‘celebrity’ candidates running for office, life on the campaign trail is obviously easier than someone running for the first time. And for many of those types of candidates raising enough money to launch and sustain an effective campaign is a challenge in itself.

We talked with three parliamentary candidates from Central Finland to find out more about their campaign finance strategies, and found some innovation in how they’re raising funds.

File picture of Tiia Lehtonen (Left) / Credit: Candidate

Tiia Lehtonen – Left Alliance

Twenty-eight year old Tiia Lehtonen is already a member of the Laukaa City Council, so she’s had some experience running for office. Her budget this time round is modest she says, but adds that the estimated €22,000 it would take run a successful campaign is a tough stretch.

“Working as a teacher’s assistant I have a small wage, and I don’t have that kind of money myself to put into the campaign, or the chance to go to the bank and get a that sort of loan” she explains.

Instead, fundraising happens closer to home asking friends and family members, as well as receiving some support from her party.

“I have to just ask people, and then of course the Left Alliance gives us something all together to advertise and get commercials in the newspapers. It’s not a lot. So donations are important for me” she tells News Now Finland.

One innovation the party is using during this election cycle is taking donations through Finnish online banking service Holvi. The advantages are the ease of use, and that contributions can be bundled together and shared among several Left Alliance candidates in Central Finland to pay for advertising.

Tiia Lehtonen’s strategy is to use that money wisely, and target potential voters through social media.

“I am thinking what kind of people would vote for me, and I try to use social media because the message will get to young people. I try to put the money there, where my voters are” she explains.

When it comes to campaign finance reform, Lehtonen reckons there should be a more level playing field for all the candidates, with maximum budget limits for campaigns.

“I know some people are using hundreds of thousands, and we don’t all have that opportunity. Some people have a lot, and some people don’t have anything. I think there should be some upper limits of how much you can spend, to make it more equal for every candidate” she says.

File picture of Joonas Könttä (Centre) / Credit: Candidate

Joonas Könttä – Centre Party 

Like candidates in other big parties, Joonas Köntta has to pay to run for office. That cash is being pooled in Central Finland to promote all 14 Centre Party candidates the region.

“I would be happier to use the money myself, but that is the rules. I am getting some money from the youth organisation, maybe €1500, it almost covers the sum I am paying to the party. It comes from one pocket, and goes to the other pocket. It’s the same organisation in theory at least” says Könttä.

The 29-year old, who is already a member of the Jyväskylä City Council, has a budget of €30,000 for this election campaign. About half of it comes from his own savings and a bank loan. The rest comes from fundraising.

“I have done a few campaigns already, this is my second time to run for the parliament, and I already did a campaign for the city council, so I have idea what works and what doesn’t work” explains the 29-year old, who works at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a day job.

“I have some people who work for advertising business so they think they know how the
money should be spent and that gives me a hint. I need to make choices whether to put more money to print media or social media or TV. Those are the choices I need to make and it’s not easy when you have a limited amount of money. If I had €100,000 it would be easy. I would do everything” he tells News Now Finland.

There’s more micro-payment options as well available on Könttä’s website, and supporters can also make SMS text donations, a system he discovered works just fine.

“On my web page there is information how to make a payment, and our party also has a tool where you can make text message donations to me, or use a mobile bank. I tried how the system works and I accidentally donated €25 to my own campaign. I didn’t mean to make a donation to myself, but it works at least!” he laughs.

Joonas is also one of those candidates counting on selling some merchandising to boost his campaign coffers. And his branded mugs are selling well.

“I put a target of raising €1000 to my campaign by the end of April with the mugs, and I already have €800 so I will go over that target. I’m obviously selling them to my relatives and friends but besides this we have many campaign events and when you speak there, usually people who are touched by the way I speak buy the mug. It’s something concrete
to give and easy to sell, and I usually sell five to eight mugs on each occasion, so I have been very happy with the way people are taking them” he says.

File picture of Jonna Purojärvi (Pir) / Credit: Candidate

Jonna Purojärvi – Pirate Party 

The Pirate Party will be the first to admit that they’re not exactly big spenders when it comes to election budgets.

As they don’t poll 2% of the vote nationally, and don’t have any members of parliament, there’s no official state funding for their party, and that means they operate on tighter margins than larger, more established parties.

“Mostly it’s just coming from my own pockets. I’m going to ask for contributions from other people but it’s not usually that high especially in parliamentary elections in Central Finland where we don’t have real chances to get through from here” says candidate Jonna Purojärvi.

Purojärvi expects her budget for this election to just €150, which is about the same as she spent on the municipal elections two years ago. At that time, it was enough to get her around 150 votes, but she says there’s more to campaigning than spending money.

“If you don’t have the financial resources, you need other resources, and I had time. I used a lot of my time to get myself known and to a lot of work inside the party, and it helped a lot” she explains.

This time round she’ll be printing some flyers, but there are innovative options for supporters to donate so she can do more.

The Pirate Party is accepting Bitcoin payments, and candidates with the own crypto currency wallet can take small donations there.

The problem with this is accountability. Purojärvi wants to see more transparency in election fundraising, and although she reckons it’s okay to receive small amounts of cash through Bitcoin anonymously – just like she could raise small amounts of cash from members of the public anonymously at a campaign stall – any larger Bitcoin donations would need to have some accountability.

“I do think there needs to be the option for anonymous financing, it kind of goes with the same thing as anonymous voting. But I think how you’re sopending it, and where you’re spending it needs to be transparent from the start” she tells News Now Finland.