FEC grants carriers broad discretion on text-to-donate

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It's still not clear whether campaigns will be able to collect via text in time for November. 


Political contributions via text message have taken another major step forward thanks to a new ruling by the Federal Election Commission, but it’s still not clear whether campaigns will be able to collect this election cycle.  

On Tuesday, the FEC paved the way for wireless carriers to start offering the service ahead of this fall by granting providers wide latitude when it comes to determining which political committees would be eligible for the service.     

Commissioners ruled that wireless providers could deny text-to-donate services to certain political committees based on commercial considerations. The FEC also made clear that the compliance burden rests entirely with political candidates and committees, not wireless service providers.

“Wireless service providers propose to ‘establish objective business criteria that are specific to political contribution text messaging campaigns,’” the FEC’s advisory opinion reads. “They may decide, for commercial reasons, to accept only proposals from some political committees and not others.”

Earlier this month, CTIA laid out some of the criteria wireless providers would use to evaluate the eligibility of political committees, including "a candidate’s viability, whether a candidate is on the ballot, or whether the candidate’s views may cause harm to the wireless service provider’s brand.” 

Questions of eligibility and compliance were the two largest sticking points in the text-to-donate debate, which has been ongoing since the FEC first approved a proposal by aggregator m-Qube and consulting firm Armour Media back in June.

Jan Baran, a partner at Wiley Rein, which is representing CTIA, tells C&E the ruling doesn’t automatically mean a text-to-donate regime will be up and running before the fall.

“I think that’s still being evaluated,” Baran says. “Assuming there is a carrier that wants to try this [for this election cycle], there are practical considerations.”

Given the proximity to November’s election, Baran says he doesn’t anticipate text-to-donate will see a broad rollout ahead of Election Day, but he does think it’s likely to be tested in some form for 2012. It's worth noting that the Obama and Romney campaigns have both expressed support for contributions via text message.

Mobile firm Revolution Messaging has put forward an alternate text-to-donate proposal, which differs substantially from the system the FEC approved earlier this summer. In light of the FEC's ruling earlier this week, the firm has asked the commission to expedite its advisory opinion request.

This story has been updated.  


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