The Federal Elections Commission cleared the way last month for political campaigns to collect small contributions from mobile-phone users through text messages, a proposal backed by both presidential campaigns and a slew of grass-roots groups. One crucial faction, however, isn't so thrilled. That would be the wireless phone companies. The companies want a guarantee that they won't be held responsible for illegal contributions — a fear that seems to be exaggerated, but one that the commission should dispel swiftly.
The donation plan was proposed by two political consultants and Los Angeles-based Mobile Messaging, a company that helps other firms market products and collect payments through mobile networks. They sought permission to let phone users make campaign contributions to federal candidates by sending a text message authorizing the candidate to bill their mobile account for up to $50 per month — the maximum amount a campaign can collect from an individual without having to itemize the donation and identify its source.
Charities and nonprofits are increasingly using text-messaging services as a fundraising platform, largely because of its reach and convenience. Those advantages help offset the sky-high charges imposed by carriers and other middlemen, which typically claim 30% to 50% of the money donated.