April 30, 2012

Making Room for the Small Donors

By Jeremy Miller

FEC LogoWe live increasingly in a world where texting, not talking, is the new norm.  Cell phones, smartphones, and blackberries are ubiquitous and there is seemingly no end to what consumers can do on these devices.  So why not allow federal political campaigns to accept text-based contributions? 

We think it’s the right thing to do, which is why today CREW and other campaign reform advocates joined together in asking the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to approve an opinion – in response to Advisory Opinion Request 2012-17 – to provide enhanced opportunities for millions of Americans to participate in the political process by texting a campaign contribution to a political candidate.

Read the letter to the FEC in support of text message donations.

Here’s why.  Charities have long enabled concerned individuals to text their donations, whether texting “FOOD” to give money to UNICEF or “AFRICA” to support the International Rescue Committee.  Several state and local jurisdictions have already begun to implement guidelines to allow for text-based campaign donations, and it’s time the FEC allow federal campaigns to do the same.

Most importantly, doing so allows small donors – who continue to experience a diminished role in the political process – to have a greater voice. For example, as our letter states, in the 2010 elections Senate candidates received only about 11.5% of their total funding from donors contributing less than $200.  House candidates on average received no more than 9% of total campaign money from small donors, and 2012 is on track to produce a similar trend.

In the era of Super PACs and corporate special interest spending, CREW believes the small donors, unencumbered by the appearance of expecting any kind of quid pro quo arrangement, will be critical to root out big money in politics.  More than 30 million Americans have texted contributions to charitable causes and there is ample reason to believe many would similarly text a donation to a political candidate.

The value of allowing text-based political contributions goes beyond beefing up campaign coffers and amplifying the voices of small donors.  Critically, it allows candidates and members of Congress spend more time focused on the issues and less time dialing for dollars.  In the end, this would be a win-win for both small donors and campaigns.  The FEC has made it easier than ever before for large donors to influence our elections.  It will be interesting to see if the commission shows the same deference to small donors.

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