Text messaging and donor focused websites in campaign fundraising were among the topics covered at the open meeting last Thursday (audio of meeting).  Two decisions will mark important milestones in the FEC’s regulation of money in cyberspace. 

Contributions by text message.  FEC AO 2012-26 (Cooper for Congress, et al.) (draft AO) and 2012-28 (CTIA) (AO request).  Can you text message a contribution to your favorite candidate from your cell phone?  The FEC approved a request to allow contributions via text message in AO 2012-17, but companies balked until the FEC was clear on how to implement a compliant process.  These two advisory opinion requests ask the FEC to clarify its rules on text message contributions.  It has been a complex issue for the FEC to address, as regulatory barriers over disclaimers, tracking the identity of donors, and liability for improper contributions have had to be resolved.  The latest question: Can vendors refuse to do business with some candidates for political, rather than purely business reasons?  With reform groups, more than a dozen Members of Congress, both Presidential campaigns, political vendors and the wireless companies supporting giving from cell phones, the FEC is likely to act quickly to resolve these issues.  

Donor focused giving platforms.  FEC AO 2012-22 (Skimmerhat).  The FEC solidified an important shift in perspective in how it regulates one form of internet giving: donor focused and donor funded internet sites.  The FEC’s views have been evolving with the technology as it has considered several business models over the past few years.  In this case, the FEC provides a particularly clear articulation of how its rules apply when a vendor’s customer is the donor, instead of a campaign.  The clarity of the decision and the scope of issues discussed may make this decision seem more important in the future than it did on Thursday, when it passed on a unanimous vote with little discussion and no questions from the Commissioners at the hearing.