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Democratic Campaign Tech Firm Adds Mobile Tools

President Barack Obama uses his BlackBerry. Democrats now have the ability to accept mobile phone based donations.(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

September 12, 2012

Democrats now have access to a streamlined system for accepting mobile phone-based campaign donations in the run-up to the November elections. NGP VAN, the company that maintains the Voter Activation Network, Democratic voter list and donation reporting tool, will begin to process text-message based donations in a partnership with Revolution Messaging.

The deal comes one week after the Federal Election Commission issued an advisory opinion that allows campaign donors to contribute the maximum amount via text messages. Now Democratic candidates and campaign committees as well as unions and progressive groups that use the Voter Activation Network for organizing and contributions can collect text message-based donations and conduct get-out-the-vote efforts via text messages.

Scott Goodstein, CEO and founder of Revolution Messaging, said in a statement that the deal combines his company's mobile platform with NGP VAN's compliance database, which handles FEC reporting.

In June, the FEC first approved requests to allow mobile-phone users to make small political donations to be collected via text messages, with the contributions appearing on customer bills. A subsequent FEC opinion sought by Revolution Messaging raised the amounts allowable for text donations by individuals from $50 per billing cycle and $200 per year to the maximum $2,500 per candidate per year allowed by campaign finance law.

Text donations are routed by the use of SMS short codes--the five- and six-digit numbers used in mobile response campaigns, from Red Cross donations to voting on "American Idol." The short codes are supplied by wireless industry trade group CTIA and can take months to launch. A recent FEC opinion allows for short codes to be shared among different campaigns, so that companies like Revolution Messaging can create individual codes for new campaigns.

Both presidential campaigns are collecting campaign donations via short codes, but the platform has yet to attract much in the way of mainstream attention. This is in part because under current guidelines, carriers are taking a 40 percent to 50 percent cut of donations--the same share they take from sales of ringtones and other products. FEC guidelines, backed by CTIA, suggest that carriers could be making in-kind political contributions if they facilitate political donations along the lines of donations to the Red Cross and other charities, which are typically processed for free or at a nominal charge.

AT&T has asked the FEC to revisit this opinion and permit carriers to process text message-based donations for a minimal charge. This effort has been backed by public interest groups Public Citizen and Public Campaign, along with the political advertising firm ArmourMedia.

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