Political campaign donations by text and wireless carriers

There are moves currently in place that would enable political campaign donations by text messages and although there could be plenty of advantages of this system, it appears that wireless carriers may feel otherwise. Plenty of people are backing the new method of donation but the four major U.S. carriers, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile are so far resisting the plans.

Text messaging political donations would obviously enable instant contributions and President Obama’s campaign, as well as Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, have already backed US regulators’ proposals. The Federal Election Commission also approved the move last month and in a country where wealthy donors have made 6 and 7 figure contributions towards this year’s campaigns the move for text donations would “empower” those who can only give a few dollars, according to campaign finance support groups.

However the move for text message contributions would need cooperation from the big four US wireless carriers who between them are responsible for more than 90% of wireless subscriptions in the country. According to Reuters though, the main carriers have various concerns with handling political campaign contributions, such as liability and regulatory issues. Industry sources therefore say that AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile are seeking further advice from the FEC on how they would implement such a system.

At present a donor’s eligibility to contribute to a campaign is regulated so that donors cannot be corporations, foreign citizens or underage, amongst other requirements. It seems this is a major issue with the big wireless carriers, as they do not want to be held liable for determining a donor’s eligibility. Sources that remain anonymous because a letter of July 3 to the FEC through CTIA has not yet been made public, report that the wireless carriers have asked for more information on just how much liability they would carry if they proceeded with the text donations plans. It remains unknown for now whether this type of donation will be usable in time for 2012 campaigns, although at this stage it could be unlikely.

The FEC ruling that would allow text message contributions will see donations capped at $10 for each text and $50 over a month with donors remaining anonymous although the campaigns would have access to givers’ phone numbers. For each transaction the carriers would take a cut for processing the payment that could amount to between 30 and 50% and it seems it’s this cut that is a stumbling block as carriers feel ties could be made between themselves and political campaigns and the fundraising involved. Another issue of concern to the wireless carriers is whether they would be able to choose which campaigns to provide text donations for and whether in fact they may be made to provide the same service for every campaign, regardless of whether that may damage their reputations.

Intriguing stuff then and we shall be following developments with the move to bring in text donations for political campaigning with interest. Do you agree that enabling small donations for political campaigns through text message will empower those who don’t have as much to give? Maybe you feel that the concerns of the major carriers are legitimate and can see drawbacks for this system? Let us know with your comments.

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