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Text-Message Donations Accepted for 2012 Presidential Election Campaigns: Are Carriers On Board?

July 10, 2012

November is less than five months away and will be here before we know it. That can only mean one thing: the 2012 presidential election will only increase in campaign hype, promotions and donations.

The election is embracing the influx of mobile devices as the Federal Election Commission gave its unanimous approval last month to allow candidates’ political action committees to collect contributions submitted via text messaging.

Fundraisers and campaign finance reform advocates have long argued in favor of the move seen as giving small donors a change for a bigger say in the 2012 campaign that has been marked by abundant six-figure donations to political groups known as Super PACS, which have no limits on spending and donations.

The contribution donated will be added to the donor’s cell phone bill that month. Users also have the option to donate online by using their cell phone number instead of a credit card number. The political solicitor is likely to receive about 50 to 70 percent of the total, the rest shared by the carrier and the aggregator.

Federal political donation limits on sums given anonymously will still be applied to this method; capping one donor to one PAC at $50 per month and $10 per text. Giving less than $50 a month allows Americans to donate anonymously even to the recipient. If someone donates a total of more than $200, PACs have to disclose the donor’s identity and address.

President Barack Obama's campaign, reputed with garnering smaller donations, raised $88.5 million, or 43 percent of its total, by the end of April, from donors who had given less than $200,according to the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. Republican candidate Mitt Romney raised $9.8 million by the same time from such donors, or 10 percent of his campaign's total.

But the wireless carriers who would oversee the donations-by-text service - including the four U.S. giants Sprint Nextel Corp, Verizon (News - Alert) Wireless, AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile USA - have yet to get on board with the plan.

The carriers, who account for about 90 percent of the more than 330 million wireless subscriptions in the United States, are worried about an array of liability and regulatory issues they could face in handling contributions to presidential and congressional candidates.

The carriers are asking the FEC for more guidance on how they should implement a donations-by-text program; they want to make sure they will not be held liable for determining donors' eligibility to contribute to a campaign, industry sources said.

"While no formal agreements or decisions have been reached...we want to ensure this feature adheres to all federal and state campaign laws, protects the privacy of our customers, and ensures a seamless process for the carriers, mobile aggregators and donors,” said Crystal Davis, a Sprint (News - Alert) spokeswoman.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2012, taking place Oct. 2-5, in Austin, TX. ITEXPO (News - Alert) offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. For more information on registering for ITEXPO click here.

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Edited by Braden Becker
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