President Obama, Mitt Romney and other federal candidates can immediately start collecting contributions through text messaging services under a unanimous decision late Monday by the Federal Election Commission.
The ruling could open the floodgates to a whole new source of money for campaigns that are already pushing to raise as much cash as possible in preparation for the November elections. The proposal had attracted support from both parties as well as watchdog groups, who view it as a potential counterweight to the role of wealthy donors in politics.
Unlike regular donations made directly to a campaign, text-messaging contributions can take up to 60 days to come through as part of monthly cellular telephone plans. The time lag had stymied previous efforts to win FEC approval of text donations. Two consulting firms, ArmourMedia and Red Blue T, came up with a solution that treats the text contribution like a pledge, which is then purchased by a third-party aggregator from the campaigns.
The Obama and Romney campaigns came together in rare agreement over text contributions, which could benefit both sides. Romney counsel Ben Ginsberg told the FEC that "the time to permit contributions via text has come," pointing to credit cards and the Internet as two other technologies that were embraced by the political fundraising system.
“Campaign finance policy debates are marked by strong differences of opinion,” Obama counsel Robert Bauer wrote in his own letter to the FEC. “But agreement seems widespread on the created uses of emerging technology.”
Text contributions could help Obama further expand his vaunted grassroots operation, while the technology could also help Romney catch up among smaller donors. Romney shook up the Obama camp last week by disclosing that the Republican candidate had outraised the incumbent president for the first time in May, though Obama has still raised far more overall during the 2012 cycle.
Armour Media president Mark Armour, a former press secretary to Al Gore, called text contributions an "antidote to the super PACs," which have dominated the GOP presidential primary and many congressional races by raising unlimited funds from wealthy individuals and corporations.
“Just when corporate billionaires were about to hijack the 2012 elections, the FEC gave millions of Americans the power to match them through small donations on their cellphones,” Armour said.