Who Benefits From Text Message Donations? Everyone!

Campaigns and outside political groups can collect donations via text message, the Federal Election Commission ruled late yesterday:

The Federal Election Commission on Monday gave its unanimous approval to allow candidates’ political action committees to collect contributions submitted via text messaging, a near-instant way to garner small-donor cash often viewed as a sign of grassroots support.


Similar to the way mobile users can send a text message to a specific short code to donate to a charity or a cause, they will now be able to give to a candidate or a PAC. Or they could also donate online by using their cell phone number instead of a credit card.


To comply with federal political donation limits on sums given anonymously, the contributions from one donor to one PAC will be capped at $50 per month, which would be monitored by the company aggregating the messaging and billing that will act as a middleman between the phone companies and political groups.

Donations will also be capped at $10 per text, according to Craig Engle, a lawyer with Arent Fox LLP, who brought the new text-for-donation proposal to the FEC representing political consulting firms Red Blue T LLC and ArmourMedia Inc and corporate aggregator m-Qube Inc.

But who does this help, and how will it affect the Super PAC-dominated campaign finance terrain?

“The conventional wisdom is this in the short term benefits Obama more than Romney,” says University of California at Irvine campaign finance expert (and Slate contributor) Rick Hasen. “Obama has been raising more money from smaller donors and this is a particularly easy way to make a small donation to a campaign.”

Except Mitt Romney’s campaign joined Obama’s in pushing for the FEC to make this ruling, suggesting there’s plenty of grassroots fundraising enthusiasm on both sides.

“I wouldn’t underestimate the Romney campaign,” Hasen said. “They did very well in their fundraising last month.” Romney and the Republican National Committee raised $76.8 million combined in May, $17 million more than Obama and the Democrats.

And it seems unlikely that, as some have suggested, the ruling will help restore the balance of power between outside political groups like Super PACs and traditional campaign donations.

“It’s not a zero-sum game,” said Hasen, who said he expected both camps to aggressively court donors large and small all the way until November.