"Attorney General Eric Holder agreed to meet with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on Tuesday as part of his attempt to stave off a vote to hold him in contempt of Congress." - The Hill, 6/19/12

We are a week late on mentioning this on the blog, but since it is a major development in terms of campaign finance we still wanted to touch upon it.

Last week the FEC ruled in favor of the use of text messaging by political committees to receive contributions. The ruling came when the FEC issued an advisory opinion requested by m-Qube, Inc (it was their fourth request). Here’s an excerpt from the press release:

The Commission concluded Monday that m-Qube, Inc.’s proposal that would allow political committees to use mobile phone text messaging to collect contributions is consistent with the recordkeeping and reporting requirements of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, as amended, (the Act) and Commission regulations and conforms to the Act’s prohibition on corporate contributions. The Commission further concluded that the proposal does not implicate the contribution forwarding requirements of the Act and satisfies the segregation requirement for commercial vendors that process political contributions.

We wrote a few weeks ago about the possibility of this development as the FEC begins to embrace more and more initiatives to engage the small donor — or those who contribute $200 or less.

Megan Wilson of The Hill wrote last week about how the text messaging will work:

Text donations would be capped at between $10 and $50 per billing cycle and campaigns would enforce that restriction through tracking donations from a single user’s mobile phone number to a single premium short code assigned to the political committee. The short code would also enable the aggregator and carriers to ensure “the $50 limit is never exceeded for one political recipient.”

m-Qube wrote that they could block all foreign and pre-paid cellphone numbers to comply with FEC donation regulations. According to the advisory opinion, users will receive a text response following their donation text that reads, for example:

“Reply YES to give $20 to Romney & certify ur 18+ & donating with own funds, not foreign national or Fed contractor.  Terms m-qube.com/r Msg&Data Rates may Apply.”

The link to m-Qube’s website will explain terms such as foreign national and federal contractor, and require donors to enter a PIN to confirm they would like to make the contribution.

As mentioned, many believe that this service will give more citizens an opportunity to become involved in a world of campaign finance that seems to be dominated by Super PACs. The Hill continues:

Government watchdog groups also support the measure and see it as a way to make it easier for small donors to participate in the election process and compete with larger interests, as made possible by 2010’s Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision.

Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign, reacted positively following the ruling on Monday night.

“With billionaires and super-PACs drowning out the voices of hardworking Americans, text message campaign contributions can enhance the role of small donors and, combined with public matching funds, could provide a megaphone for the masses,” he said.

Public Campaign and nine other watchdog groups signed a letter in support of the measure, writing: “Small donors are a critical component of our democratic process, and technology can play a crucial role in helping to empower the voices of more Americans. More than 30 million Americans have texted a contribution to a charitable cause, and many people would likely text a donation to a political candidate if the practice is enabled [at the federal level].”

Former FEC chairman Michael Toner also chimed in on the development via Twitter:

Expect bursts of presidential txt msg contributions when VP choice is made,convention acceptance speech nights & during the 3 fall debates.

We believe that the decision by the FEC is a positive one in attempting to engage small donors into the process, which is a main motive behind skimmerhat as well. It will be interesting to follow how and to what extent this option for contributing to campaigns is used by citizens.

— Spencer

"North Carolina has become the 31st state to add an amendment on marriage to its constitution, with voters banning same-sex marriage and barring legal recognition of unmarried couples by state and local governments." - News Observer, 5/9/12

An interesting article was published by Politico a couple days ago that reviewed all the ways the FEC is beginning to loosen campaign finance restrictions on Internet and mobile technology.

Donors will be able to give to candidates and campaigns through shopping rebated programs and texts, just to name a few.

But this push to allow Americans to leverage the Internet and technology to make donations comes down to a certain type of donor — the small donor. We’ve written before how the small donor can make an impact, especially when candidates leverage technology. And it seems many others, in addition to the FEC, are seeing that trend as well.

The difference in this type of donor is even more pronounced with so much talk and angst centered around PACs and Super PACs (remember a recent study showed that 196 Americans gave 80% of all Super PAC money in 2011, which equates to .000063 percent of all Americans).

Taken together, the new programs could help recruit legions of new political contributors who can’t afford to cut a $2,500 check to a campaign or wire $1 million to a super PAC, but wouldn’t think twice about firing off 10 bucks through their iPhones to their favorite Republican or Democrat.

And the new landscape could help small-dollar donors compete with big bucks flowing into politics from the likes of super PAC givers Sheldon Adelson, Harold Simmons and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Cash from smaller donors “can absolutely be a counterweight to super PACs,” said Brett Kappel, a campaign finance attorney at Arent Fox who is representing the groups pushing for donations via text.

He pointed to President Barack Obama and the unprecedented number of small donations he raised during the 2008 cycle, which helped fuel his rise to the White House.

Donations via text messaging, in particular, could revolutionize political giving, campaign finance experts say.

Instead of wooing wealthy donors to write big checks, candidates could encourage a crowd full of supporters to make an impulse donation by punching a few keys.

It’s a fundraising tactic that has already yielded big bucks for charities, particularly in the aftermath of natural disasters.

The Federal Election Commission is expected to weigh in on the legality of campaign donations via text by next month.

With more tools given to Americans, the likelihood of more citizens becoming engaged in the political process increases as well, according to a group pushing for the addition of text contributions.

The text message proposal, for example, earned the backing of several prominent government reform groups and a union, including Public Campaign, the Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Communication Workers of America, Democracy Matters, Demos, Public Citizen, Rootstrikers, United Republic and U.S. PIRG.

“In addition to amplifying the voices of small donors, it can increase civic engagement by bringing more people into the process and enable members of Congress to spend more time with constituents and less time dialing for dollars,” the groups wrote in a letter to the FEC.

Campaign finance deregulation advocates, for their part, laud the decisions’ 1st Amendment implications, praising the FEC for improving peoples’ ability to exercise their political speech rights.

“They’re all great ideas, and the FEC needs to keep helping move campaigns into the modern era,” said David Keating, president of the pro-campaign deregulation group Center for Competitive Politics.“By allowing voters more options, you enhance their ability to participate in campaigns.”

It is exciting the see these evolutions in campaign finance. We believe the power of the individual in the political process is strong when the right tools and opportunities are available.

And when individuals gather together behind a belief or group of ideas, they can change the country. Regardless of special interests, lobbyists and PACs or Super PACs.

— Spencer