The FEC just put a halt to political contributions via text message. The CTIA – the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association – accused the FEC of “a history of imposing additional burdens that are above and beyond what the law requires,” but the real problem is the carriers’ inability to deliver contributions in a timely manner. If carriers were willing to address this and a way to more accurately account for who the donation is coming from, we could easily see mobile giving making an impact in the 2012 elections. It just needs to be accountable and transparent.
Instead of criticizing the ruling, wireless companies should address the problems their billing systems might have separating corporate funds from political contributions and also making sure that donors could not use the system to exceed the $50 limit for anonymous donations. These requirements aren’t going “above and beyond the law,” but are necessary to prevent illegal contributions from flowing to candidates. Additionally, federal law requires campaign contributions be forwarded to a campaign within ten days, but mobile companies typically work on a thirty day billing cycle. Many non-profits who have experimented with mobile giving usually find it takes even longer to get their money – sometimes more than 90 days – if they aren’t receiving a large amount of donations. This won’t work for campaigns soliciting donations 3 weeks before Election Day.
As easy as it is to put the blame on the FEC for holding back progress, the real problem is the unwillingness to make changes to the carriers’ system for processing mobile contributions. There is enough unregulated money coursing through the body politic without wireless companies creating a new platform for abuse.
A method for making political contributions via text would be a victory for those who believe in the power of small-dollar contributions, but my desire for justice and accountability is far greater. When the wireless companies take the necessary steps to accommodate the FEC – in time, I believe they will – our democracy will benefit by allowing individuals to more easily contribute to the candidates they support and causes they are concerned about. The potential for mobile contributions remains great, but they must be done right.
Topics 2012 Election, Mobile Giving