In 2008, Barack Obama's campaign staffers changed the way political campaigns leverage technology and social media. The President's re-election campaign hopes to revolutionize political donations the same way in 2012, with help from smartphones and mobile credit card readers.

Reporters from Politico and the Los Angeles Times have already seen Obama campaign staffers in action, using devices powered by the Square credit card reader. When used in conjunction with a custom mobile application, staffers can collect small credit card donations during political rallies and door-to-door canvassing operations. Campaign officials expect to make the application available to all volunteers later this year.

The rollout comes on the heels of successful Square fundraising campaigns during 2011's local and state elections. Staffers for Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney have also revealed that they tested Square for small political donations during the heated Florida primary campaign.

Square credit card reader showing up in local retail stores

Meanwhile, the San Francisco-based payments startup has shortened the wait for prospective merchants to start using their service. The company announced a new partnership with T-Mobile that will land its devices for sale at the mobile phone dealer's retail locations. Retail customers pay $9.95 for a packaged Square reader, plus a gift card good for a new member's first $10 in service fees. T-Mobile joins Radio Shack, Walmart, Target, and Apple Store as authorized Square retail outlets.

A Square reader lets merchants of any size accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express cards for a flat 2.75 percent interchange fee, with no monthly fees or additional service charges. Square members can still request free credit card swipe devices online at SquareUp.com, but the wait for free devices has sometimes stretched into multiple weeks.

Although the company's founders envisioned the product as an affordable way for small businesses to accept credit cards, Square has added customer loyalty functionality to its companion smartphone applications. Customers can make repeat purchases by tapping an authorization button on their own mobile devices, and merchants can automatically apply discounts for regular customers, while maintaining compliant with credit card issuers' privacy and security rules.