Who wouldn't want to win tickets to an upcoming Saints game — even if the price of entering was providing your cell phone number to a political campaign? It must have seemed a great idea in the campaign offices of Congressman Anh "Joseph" Cao, whose website (www.caoforcongress.com) offered the chance to do just that by texting the word "TIX" and/or giving up cell numbers.
The problem? Nothing on the site indicated that providing a phone number was "opting in" to receiving text messages from the Cao campaign — and, unlike most sweepstakes, there were no rules or odds posted, no number of stated tickets to be given away, nor even the dates of the contest or the prize: just the vague promise of a "chance to win tickets to upcoming games."
When Gambit called the Cao campaign for clarification on Sept. 21, it turned out the tickets were for the team's season opener — which was Sept. 9. The tickets already had been awarded (the winner: Desmon Benn of Algiers), though the campaign was still collecting phone numbers with the promise of giving away more.
"We just did it for the Saints-Vikings home opener," said Cao campaign manager David Huguenel. "We don't have any more scheduled, but we're hoping to do more. This just happened, and we are in the process of changing our website."
Huguenel conceded the problem with holding a contest in which the prize had already been awarded two weeks before, but said, "We were certainly not trying to deceive anybody; we're not trying to confuse people. I'm confident we did everything within the rules of FEC (Federal Elections Commission) compliance."
Julia Queen, a public affairs specialist for the FEC in Washington, D.C., said the commission had no hard and fast rules for giveaways of this sort in exchange for cell phone numbers. "Believe it or not, the FEC rules on the Internet haven't been updated since 2006," Queen said.
The Cao campaign website has since been changed. The tickets are now stated to be for the Saints-Steelers game on Oct. 31, and boilerplate rules have been added, noting "entry should not be viewed as campaign contribution" and that "any subsequent information provided are [sic] to be used by Joseph Cao for Congress in compliance with FEC regulations." — Kevin Allman