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Wireless Industry Puts Out Text Donation Guidelines

August 29, 2012

The wireless industry association CTIA issued guidelines on Wednesday for the processing of text message-based contributions to political candidates, committees and political parties.

The Federal Election Commission approved the use of mobile phone donations in June and recently addressed lingering industry concerns. These SMS-based shortcode donations got their first high profile exposure in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in January 2010, when the Red Cross raised $32 million in under a month.

CTIA administers the shortcode system. Its advice to carriers includes the right to refuse proposals from some committees, although FEC filings indicate that refusals should be for business and not partisan reasons. Political organizations collecting funds should use a single shortcode to help ensure that donors don't exceed limits of $50 per month and $200 per year from any one mobile number, the CTIA said.

The fundraising campaigns and organizations will receive mobile numbers from the "aggregators" charged with processing the donations on behalf of the wireless carriers. The contribution amounts are relatively small, and much of the value to text-message based donations is in the collection of mobile numbers, which can be used for subsequent campaign communications.

The Obama campaign on Friday rolled out a plan to accept campaign contributions via text-to-donate short codes for mobile customers. The Romney campaign has yet to go live with its plan.

AT&T is the lone holdout among leading mobile carriers in providing political text donations. AT&T is waiting on an FEC opinion on whether the company can start its own donation service that reduces processing fees. The way the rules are currently written, a reduction in charges by a carrier or aggregator could be seen as an "in-kind" contribution to a campaign.

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