The Federal Election Commission on Monday night unanimously voted to allow Americans to make political donations via text message, making Androids, iPhones and Blackberries the newest weapon in the battle to raise unprecedented amounts of money. Both parties, as well as campaign finance reform advocates, say the move will allow Americans of modest means to play a greater role in a democratic process dominated this election cycle by billionaires and multi-millionaires and political organizations such as super PACs that may raise and spend money without restriction. The decision will take effect immediately, although it may be days or weeks before the system is fully functional. Individual phone numbers will be capped at $50 worth of donations per billing cycle per political candidate or committee.
Texting a political donation will be akin to what many charities already do in asking people to text a short message to a five-digit number in support of a cause. Upon doing so, a donor has a fixed amount of money — often $10, sometimes more — charged to his or her account. The process takes a matter of seconds in contract to comparatively clunkier methods, such as writing a paper check or using a credit card after filling out an online donation form. A presidential or congressional candidate, lording over a high-energy rally, might urge a throng of hundreds or thousands to pull out their phones and contribute that very moment. Instant cash. Likewise, political action committees could solicit text message-based donations through their broadcast and online advertisements, giving them easy streams of political cash.
From the outset, most of the six FEC commissioners — both those appointed by Republicans and Democrats — expressed support for the donations-by-text concept. But Democrat-appointed commissioners raised several concerns about the logistics surrounding donations by text, such as how to prevent scofflaws and foreign nationals from exceeding contribution limits or using multiple, disposable cell phones in order to make illegal donations.