FEC green lights AT&T request on text-to-donate rates

Some donations via text message could turn out to be more lucrative for campaigns after the Federal Election Commission approved a bid by AT&T to restructure its service rates. The commission unanimously voted to approve AT&T's request at its meeting Thursday. 

Wireless carriers typically take 30 to 50 percent off the top of mobile contributions—a carryover from their fees on commercial content like apps. But AT&T intends to implement a new model where rates are a percentage of the contribution amount, a flat per-text message charge or some combination of the two for text donations of $1, $2, $5, $10, $15 and $20.

“Customers who contribute via text message to political committees ‘reasonably will expect that most of their contribution is going to the political candidate or committee of their choice’ and ‘do not want a significant portion of their [contributions] siphoned off to the aggregators and wireless [service] providers,’” the advisory opinion reads. “AT&T asserts that, if its wireless customers learn that AT&T and the connection aggregator are retaining a significant portion of their contributions, the customers will be dissatisfied with the transaction and will view AT&T unfavorably as a result.”

The rates will be “substantially less” than what the carrier charges for commercial content, but enough to ensure AT&T sees a return. Carriers will not be guilty of offering an “in-kind” contribution, so long as their rate structure remains the same regardless of the campaign.

Verizon Wireless issued a comment on AT&T’s request during the draft phase approving of the move. M-Qube, the wireless aggregator that submitted the initial text-to-donate AOR, also voiced its approval Monday.

“Early this year, a few of us recognized that by applying the technology and procedures that we use every day in our normal work for carriers and consumer businesses, we could offer a technical solution that would enable masses of Americans to make their voices heard,” wrote Alan Sege, executive VP at payvia, Inc.—m-Qube’s new brand—in a comment. “[AT&T’s] request takes the necessary final step of recognizing that for this program to be a true success, it must not be constrained to the normal and usual carrier rates applied to commercial content providers.”

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