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Victory for Small Donor Democracy

Adam Lioz

Last night the Federal Election Commission (FEC) voted unanimously to allow Americans to contribute to candidates and political organizations through text messaging.

This move, several years in the making, came in response to rare across-the-board support for text giving by candidates, both major political parties, and pro-democracy reform advocacy organizations including Demos.

Candidates, parties, and PACs are obviously interested in more ways to open potential donors' wallets.  

Text giving allows them to offer increased convenience and tap a younger demographic.

But, more important is the technology's potential for democratizing our political campaigns. By making it easier for the broad swath of Americans to support their favorite candidates and causes, text giving is a small step towards a "small donor democracy" in which financial contributions from ordinary citizens rather than special interests and the super rich shape the political process.

This small step won't, of course, create a sea change overnight. We still need to push back on Super PACs, further incentivize small contributions through vouchers or tax credits, and match low-dollar contributions with public funds to level the playing field for grassroots candidates (like New York State is currently considering). And, the Supreme Court will likely decide this week how to treat a critical case out of Montana that provides an opportunity to revisit the disastrous Citizens United decision. That, of course, is the 2010 case which has so tightly tied the hands of federal, state, and local policymakers as they struggle to stem the tide of big money flowing into our elections.

We may know the Montana case's fate as soon as this Monday, June 18th.

We have much more work to do to create a democracy in which the strength of a citizen's voice does not depend upon the size of her wallet. But, we should applaud the FEC today for taking a small step in that direction.