By Matea Gold, Tribune Washington Bureau –
WASHINGTON — The Federal Election Commission gave the go-ahead Monday evening to using text messages to donate money to federal candidates and committees, a move advocates hope will boost the participation of small contributors and counterbalance the influx of massive donations.
In a rare instance of bipartisan agreement, the six-member panel unanimously approved a proposal by two political consulting companies — one Republican and one Democratic — to work with a third-party aggregator to collect donations by text. The decision means that campaigns can begin accepting donations via text messages on cellphones, a potentially lucrative new avenue, once the program is approved by wireless carriers, said Alan Sege, executive vice president and general counsel for m-Qube, the aggregator company.
Sege came up with the concept with Democratic consultant Mark Armour, who called the FEC’s decision “a real game changer for campaigns.”
“The FEC just unlocked an entirely new fundraising stream of millions of small, easy donations,” Armour said.
The move was applauded by groups seeking to strengthen campaign finance regulations.
“With billionaires and ‘super PACs’ drowning out the voices of hardworking Americans, text message campaign contributions can enhance the role of small donors and, combined with public matching funds, could provide a megaphone for the masses,” said Nick Nyhart, president of Public Campaign, one of 10 organizations that urged the commission to approve the plan. “The FEC did the right thing today.”
The proposal was also supported by the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
“The American public has embraced texting as an important form of communication and commerce, and it is time for federal regulations to catch up,” the Romney campaign’s lawyers wrote in a letter to the commission.
Under the plan approved Monday, cellphone numbers will be capped at giving $50 a month per candidate or political committee — the maximum an individual can give anonymously. Once a mobile number reaches $200 cumulatively for a particular committee — the threshold at which donor information must be reported to the FEC — a campaign can block the donation or request information from the contributor in order to accept it.
Both m-Qube and the wireless carriers will collect a portion of the donation in fees.
Two years ago, the FEC considered a similar text message donation plan by the wireless carrier association CTIA, but the proposal foundered when the group could not figure out how to comply with the requirement that campaigns deposit donations within 10 days, among other technical challenges.