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California Regulators Pondering Political Contributions Via SMS

BY Nick Judd | Monday, August 1 2011

Photo: Dru Bloomfield / Flickr

California's Fair Political Practices Commission is now considering regulations that would pave the way for state-level political committees to collect donations through text message, the San Francisco Chronicle reports:

The state's Fair Political Practices Commission, which enforces political campaign laws, is backing the idea, which is on track to be approved by October and could be in force by the 2012 elections.

"Sounds like a good idea to me," said Gov. Jerry Brown, adding his support to the proposal.

The plan would make donating any amount to a state or local campaign as easy as texting a donation to a disaster relief fund or a charity, said FPPC Chair Ann Ravel.

"The goal is democratizing the campaign process - making sure that people at every level are more involved in politics," Ravel said.

None of this is entirely as easy as it sounds, says Scott Goodstein, who was external online director for President Barack Obama's 2008 election effort and now runs a mobile-centric consultancy, Revolution Messaging. The state must figure out not just when to count a donation as "received" by a campaign, but how and under what rules carriers like AT&T and Verizon will handle the transfer of funds. There are also disclosure requirements; generally contributions must come with the contributor's employer and occupation attached, for instance, so there will have to be some mechanism for collecting it. And there can be a lag time before carriers release funds to donation recipients — something that both campaigns and the deadline-minders at the FPPC will want to sort out ahead of an election year.

"I do think the devil is in some of the details on this stuff because it's still a complex payment system," Goodstein said.

Still, California here outstrips the Federal Elections Commission, which has yet approve a mechanism for donations to political causes via text. California's FPPC is set to take up the issue at an Oct. 13 hearing, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

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