Working with the system: How we got Express Lane approved in Massachusetts

At ActBlue, we’re constantly working to improve our technology in ways that will help us further our mission so that we can share those improvements with you! But it’s not always a steady march towards progress. As anyone with compliance experience knows, campaign finance regulations aren’t always up to date with emerging technology and that’s when we have to get creative.

We recently encountered a clear example of this tension in our home state of Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance (“OCPF”) is responsible for promulgating, overseeing, and enforcing campaign finance regulations within the state. We wanted to roll out Express Lane, our single click donation system, in Massachusetts, but one OCPF regulation in particular gave us pause. This regulation applies to contributions made with a credit or debit card over the internet and it requires that the contributor click a checkbox on the contribution form to confirm they meet certain requirements prior to their final act of clicking the “donate” button. Given that the whole purpose of Express Lane is to just click once in an email in order to contribute, the regulation meant that we couldn’t use Express Lane in Massachusetts.

In some instances, outdated regulations slow us down and we can only offer limited tools in that state or locality. Fortunately, we sometimes get to work with agencies like the OCPF that are interested in learning about the ways their regulations might impact evolving technology, so that they can evaluate regulations and develop workable solutions. With an important gubernatorial election around the corner and deadlines looming, ActBlue submitted a request for an advisory opinion to the OCPF. We were seeking clarification of the regulation’s application to Express Lane and offering a creative solution for how our Express Lane tool could comply with the law in Massachusetts. (In case you didn’t know: lawyers can be creative, too!)

Luckily the OCPF shares our commitment to making it possible for more grassroots supporters to get involved in politics. The department invited our legal staff for a sit-down at their office to discuss the advisory opinion request. The staff expressed its interest in finding a way for Express Lane to help spur contributor and voter engagement in Massachusetts and agreed that requiring some changes to Express Lane could be counterproductive if they resulted in inhibiting contributions. That’s the ideal situation when we work with regulatory agencies. We always want to play by the rules, but we also appreciate working with regulators who want to ensure that the rules encourage small donors to participate in the democratic process.

Ultimately, the OCPF determined that adding specific language in Express Lane emails could allow contributors to simultaneously donate and certify that they meet the requirements, as opposed to requiring two separate actions. Because the OCPF was willing to work with us as we made changes to our tools to ensure Massachusetts candidates and committees could use Express Lane with ease, we’re proud to say ActBlue Express Lane is now active in Massachusetts, along with thirty-two other states! We’re looking forward to working with more regulators to solve the challenge of keeping campaign finance regulations up to date with technology.

Want to use Express Lane in Massachusetts? Just drop us a line at info at actblue dot com.