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Texting campaign contributions

I see no reason why this should not be allowed.

A Houston-based PAC is asking the Texas Ethics Commission to approve a proposal that would allow the committee to solicit text message contributions from donors in the state.

The Federal Election Commission has approved a text-to-donate model for federal campaigns, but demand for the service is already spreading down the ballot. The PAC—Harris County Republicans—wants the Ethics Commission to move quickly so donation functionality can be added to a voter mobilization app developed by PAC founder Robert Flanagan.

“When a campaign buys the app from the company, it’s customized for their jurisdiction,” says Jerad Najvar, the PAC’s attorney. “They put it in the app store, and the volunteers for that person’s campaign can then download.”

The app syncs with the state’s voter registration database so that once a volunteer downloads the app, an algorithm runs contacts against the voter file and identifies those who are registered in the jurisdiction. From there, the volunteer can call or email highlighted contacts with one touch. Soon Flanagan hopes users will be forwarding the keyword “donate” to their friends with the touch of a button.

[…]

Najvar thinks the company’s text donation model is readily passable under Texas law, but he’s not sure about the timetable for approval from the state’s Ethics Commission, noting “the TEC is not as efficient as the FEC.”

You can, of course, already make a contribution from your smartphone – just browse to your favorite candidate’s webpage, or go to Act Blue, and give to your heart’s content. The distinction between an app and a webpage on a smartphone is one without much difference – they’re both just fancy ways of accessing a web server and backend database. As this KHOU story notes, there are a few extra wrinkles with texting.

For example, if someone makes a text donation over his employer’s phone and the employer simply pays the company cell phone bill, it could be considered an illegal corporate campaign contribution. Then again, people who aren’t supposed to contribute to campaigns, like foreign nationals, may innocently break the law by texting contributions.

Najvar predicts Texas candidates will simply put a verification screen in their text message donation process, asking contributors to certify that their contributions are legal.

“The issue here, of course, is verification on the candidate side,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU political analyst. “He or she has to prove that these are legitimate campaign contributions and has to be able to back it up with some verification.”

And cell phone carriers are skimming a huge portion of donors’ campaign contributions, political operatives say. In some cases, Najvar says, phone companies are keeping anywhere from 20 percent to 50 percent of text message donations.

Nonetheless, he’s convinced the questions raised by the new technology will be resolved as more campaign money flows in from text messages.

I would think you could solve the verification issue by having the contribution site send back a link for the donor to click to verify that he or she is the bill-paying owner of the phone, and is an American citizen. I suppose that eliminates anyone who’s still using a non-smartphone, but how many such people with an interest in texting campaign contributions could there possibly be? I figure if this catches on, someone will push legislation to limit the amount that a provider could skim off the top. I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t become reality soon. A press release from Attorney Najvar is here, and Texas Watchdog has more.

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  1. […] here for the full opinion, and here for the background. I think this is perfectly sensible, and I’m glad to see it happen. I […]

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