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Campaign donations by text? Not so fast, wireless carriers say

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Volunteers use cell phones to take photos of former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at a campaign call center in Las Vegas, Nev., on Feb. 3.

Political contributions by text – seen as the ultimate grassroots fundraising mechanism – have been endorsed by the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney and approved by the Federal Election Commission. But wireless carriers, who would be responsible for overseeing the donations, are concerned that they could be held responsible for monitoring donor eligibility.

Here are some key excerpts from Reuters reporter Alina Selyukh’s story:



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The wireless carriers who would oversee the donations-by-text service - including the four U.S. giants Sprint Nextel Corp, Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile USA - have yet to get on board with the plan. 

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One sticking point is that the carriers want to make sure they will not be held liable for determining donors' eligibility to contribute to a campaign, industry sources said. 
That means ruling out that a donor is a corporation, foreign citizen or underaged American who is not allowed to contribute, or whether the donor has met various limits for donations to a campaign. 
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Text donations, capped at $10 per text and $50 a month, according to the FEC ruling, would allow givers to remain anonymous, although campaigns would have access to the donors' phone numbers. Donations by text messages also would be limited to a total of $200 per phone number to avoid triggering a federal requirement for disclosure of that donor's identity and address. 
Donating to political campaigns by text would be similar to giving to charity: A donor would send a message to a text code and then confirm his or her intention and eligibility. But in this case, carriers and aggregators processing the payment would take a significant cut from each transaction, as they do with other non-charitable transactions, such as purchases of ring tones. 
That cut appears to be part of the reason for tension that carriers are feeling over text donations to campaigns. The fee could reach 30 percent to 50 percent of each donation, according to FEC documents, putting wireless carriers in a potentially uncomfortable position of doing business with campaigns and their fundraising efforts. 

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