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Opinion

Busy signal from cell carriers holds up campaign donations by text

Texting and media on cell phones and iPods

Texting and media on cell phones and iPods have increased dramatically in the 8 to 18 year-old bracket in the past five years. Credit: iStock

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney use bundlers, celebrities and high fliers who hold fancy cocktail parties to rake in the big donors. Now the nickle and dime brigade can do the same, but you won’t get a martini and sashimi. Instead of showing up with a check, you text in the dollars.

At least, there are no worries about what to wear.

At the top of both Obama's and Romney's very blue campaign sites, a bright red button catches your attention immediately: Donate! Fill out a little information, add a credit card number with an amount. It works, but it has such a turn of the century feel to the transaction.

Now the Federal Election Commission has unanimously ruled in favor of allowing donations via text message, the same way the Red Cross raised relief funds after the disasters in Haiti and Japan. Each message is worth $10, and there is a $50 cap each month. Once a donor (known only by cell phone number) reaches $200, the PACs involved must disclose the individual's identity and address.

Although the FEC has approved it and both candidates have written letters in support of the digital donations method, they are getting a drop signal from the big carriers. Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, which handle 90 percent of the 330 million wireless subscriptions in the country, are looking for more guidelines and specifics on how it works.

Carriers don't want to be liable for determining a donor's eligibility — ruling out corporations, foreign citizens and underage citizens — or for keeping track of who has reached the spending limits.

That’s what we used to worry about from the cocktail set.

Maybe campaign financing really is getting a little too easy.

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