You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Mobile Lobby Asks FEC to Okay Donation-by-Text

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, September 17 2010

Photo credit: Moritz Petersen

Politico's Kim Hart reports that the cellular lobby is asking federal regulators to okay the collection of donations to campaigns and political parties via text message:

A short text message could be the next big thing in campaign finance.

Cell phone carriers are seeking to get approval to let customers make small donations to a political party or candidate via text messages.

By sending a text message to a specified common short code —a five- or six-digit number often used by marketers to send coupons, sports scores or weather reports to mobile phones — people may soon be able to make small political donations.

CTIA, the wireless industry's main trade association, has asked the Federal Election Commission for approval to collect and deliver donations of around $10 from customers who want to give to a particular federal campaign, POLITICO has learned.

As Hart notes, those texted-in small dollars can add up quick, as we saw with the tens of millions of dollars reportedly collected that way by the Red Cross and others for post-earthquake relief in Haiti. But there's also a good deal in this for carriers, as Kim also notes; they get a slice of each donation, which can also add up quickly. (Some carriers opted out of taking that cut in the Haiti case; don't expect that act of charity to be the norm.) Give Kim's piece a read for some of the particulars of this situation, including how CTIA proposes to manage the collection of contributor data. Something to keep an eye on.

If I might, I've actually just started digging into something similar, if more esoteric. It has to do with Apple apps. Some folks, it seems, have run into trouble getting their iPhone and iPad apps approved if they contain the option for users to make donations to their organizations.

Bullying UK seems to have found themselves in that spot back in February, and you can see the limitations for groups hoping to fundraise if they can't get Apple's approval on those grounds. The app approval process is something of a black box, but the guidelines that Apple is showing iOS developers trickled forth from the company last week. And they seem to confirm the restriction, saying that apps that collect donations for "recognized charitable organizations" must meet two conditions: the apps must be free in the iTunes store, and the "collection of donations must be done via a web site in [Apple's proprietary browser] Safari or an SMS." I asked Apple's press folks only yesterday to talk with me about the details, and I'll let you know what I might hear back.

As we see political organizing -- including the small-dollar donations that have been heralded as the cornerstone of distributed, technology-powered politics -- moving from the wild west of the World Wide Web to places like cell phones and Apple apps, we're adding new corporate gatekeepers to the stable of gatekeepers that was once largely limited to the Federal Election Commission. The benefit, of course, is that there are more and more channels by which to collect those tiny contributions, something that becomes more important in the wake of the Supreme Court's campaign finance decision on corporate spending in the Citizens United case. But there are trade-offs, no doubt.

Again, something to keep an eye on.