Sunday, December 8, 2013
By T.W. FARNAM The Washington Post
WASHINGTON - A plea to text "donate" to 62262 (that's O-B-A-M-A) may be coming to a political ad near you.
The Federal Election Commission announced last week that it has approved legal guidance that will allow small political donations to be added to cell phone bills when a campaign supporter sends a specific text message.
The agency unanimously approved two opinions spelling out technical details of how the proposals from Republican and Democratic firms would comply with the complex requirements of campaign finance law.
It was an unusually swift move from an agency that's known for foot dragging and partisan gridlock.
"These proposals have engendered widespread, bipartisan support from political campaigns and reform groups alike because they offer a new and dynamic vehicle for political engagement," FEC member Cynthia Bauerly said in a statement. "I feel strongly that making the political process more accessible to more people will help ensure full participation in our democracy, and today's opinions represent an important step in that direction."
Whether campaigns could start soliciting text-message donations before the November elections depends on how quickly the carriers can negotiate the details with companies providing the service to campaigns.
"They are reviewing the opinion to see if there are any remaining issues," said Jan Baran, who heads the election law group at Wiley Rein and represented the CTIA Wireless Association, the trade group for cell phone carriers.
President Obama's campaign has already aggressively pursued donations by sending text messages with links to Internet donation pages.
That extra step of requiring donors to enter their credit card information through a Web page could make all the difference, however. A study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that donations can be highly impulsive, with half of donors who supported disaster relief after the 2010 Haitian earthquake giving immediately upon hearing about the campaign via text.
In June, the FEC approved a plan from a bipartisan pair of political consulting firms that had support from both Obama's campaign and that of Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Wireless carriers raised objections, however, saying they didn't want to be liable for making sure donors were American citizens or that they stayed within the $5,000 limit that one person can give directly to a political candidate.
The FEC said Wednesday that campaigns and the companies working with them would bear those responsibilities.
Under the plan, contributions from a phone number would be limited to $50 in each billing period, or $200 in total. After that, the campaign would need to ask for the donor's identity to enforce contribution limits and disclosure requirements.