- Associated Press - Monday, June 21, 2010

ATLANTA | Running for office? You can make an app for that.

Maintaining a Facebook page and setting up a Twitter feed have become standard practice for political candidates seeking to get their message out. Some now are even creating iPhone applications so supporters can follow their campaigns and make contributions on the go.

The method has grown in popularity — especially since President Obama’s widely chronicled embrace of social media during the 2008 campaign. He even had a sophisticated iPhone app that let people get in touch with local organizers and find local events.

“The demand for it, to be able to do it, is going to grow a lot, particularly if it’s shown that apps are an effective way to raise money for a political campaign,” said Peter Scheer, executive director of the California-based First Amendment Coalition.

Doug MacGinnitie, a Republican running to be Georgia’s secretary of state, has an iPhone app that provides information about his campaign and helps supporters donate money. Friends approached him about making one for the campaign last year, and it’s been downloaded roughly 200 times, he said.

“I don’t think it’s going to change the course of history, but I’ve gotten comments from people who think it’s cool,” Mr. MacGinnitie said. “It reinforces the notion that I come from the business world, which is generally quicker to embrace technology.”

Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, running to be the Democratic nominee for governor, has an app that lets people follow her calendar, read news releases, familiarize themselves with her background and make campaign contributions.

“It shows that our campaign is a modern campaign,” said Kelliher spokesman Matt Swenson. “We’re connecting with people where they are right now through the phones in the palms of their hands.”

Apple says it doesn’t keep track of how many campaign apps — or any other kind of app — are among the roughly 225,000 in its app store.

If a candidate doesn’t have a friend or staffer who can do it, a basic iPhone app might cost between $5,000 and $10,000 to develop, said Gregg Weiss, the founder of iPhoneAppQuotes.com, which matches people wanting to create an app with U.S.-based developers.

Apple has had spats over rejected apps, including at least one candidate whose app was turned down. Some online chatter has focused on whether the power to reject app proposals gives Apple too much influence over politics, though Mr. Scheer dismissed that notion.

“There certainly would be a problem if there were no competitor to Apple offering an alternative platform to reach a similar audience,” Mr. Scheer said. But there are competitors — for instance, BlackBerry and phones that use Google’s Android software.

Google spokesman Anthony House wrote in an e-mail that the company doesn’t review Android apps but will take them down if they use illegal content, are obscene or violate other policies.

Jamie Ernst of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion wrote in an e-mail that apps must be submitted for approval before they appear in BlackBerry’s App World, but that there are no specific guidelines for political apps.

Some also have worried that Apple’s rejections limit free speech. But Mr. Scheer said Apple is able to control what’s in the apps because it’s a private entity and not the government, and the company could reasonably argue it’s like a publisher.

“Their whole smorgasbord of apps is the equivalent of a magazine’s selection of the articles it wants to print and, therefore, it’s entitled to be as biased as it wants to be, frankly,” he said.

Republican congressional candidate Ari David of California documented a tiff with Apple over his app on his campaign website. Apple initially rejected the app last month, saying it defamed the Democratic incumbent, longtime liberal Rep. Henry A. Waxman. Mr. David wound up losing the GOP primary.

Apple refuses to disclose the specifics of its vetting process. But the company did say a political app needs to come directly from the campaign, and its primary purpose cannot be to attack another candidate.

Mr. David argued that his app fell within Apple’s guidelines because it was critical of Mr. Waxman’s policy and actions as an elected official, not of the congressman himself. Apple subsequently reversed its decision.

“When this issue was brought to our attention, we reviewed it further and realized we made a mistake,” Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller told the Associated Press. “While we don’t approve apps that attack individuals, that is not what this app is primarily about.”

At a technology conference organized by the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, Apple CEO Steve Jobs admitted that the company has made some mistakes when it comes to dealing with political content.

“We’re changing the rules when it makes sense, but we think it made sense to have a rule that said you can’t defame people,” he said.