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Democrat, Republican political collectors ask FEC to OK texted contributions

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The economy may be largely lackluster but the political sector is so flush with cash it appears on the verge of creating a whole new profession: Campaign contribution brokers.

That would be the result if the Federal Election Commission approves a bipartisan request that it made public late Wednesday afternoon.  Filing on behalf of two campaign consulting groups, one Democrat and one Republican, the blue-chip Washington law firm Arendt Fox urges the FEC to approve a system for texting small contributions to political campaigns that would allow middlemen to collect as much as 50 cents on every donated dollar.

The brokers are part of an ingenious and complex financial mechanism designed to overcome objections the FEC raised two years ago, when it shot down an effort to win approval of texted contributions, hotly sought after by political campaigns at the time because of the large sums raised for south Asian tsunami relief through cell phone donations. One of the issues the FEC raised was the amount of time it would take for campaigns to get the money: the commission requires the funds be transfered within 10 days, a deadline that might not be met if the campaigns had to wait for a donor's cell phone bill to be paid.

Brokers would solve the problem, the political consultants say, by "buying" the pledge from the campaign and providing cash immediately, then collecting the money from the donors. But because of the uncertainty about whether donors would make good on their offers, there would be a premium:  The middlemen would take anywhere from a 30 percent to 50 percent cut under the plan outlined in the filing to the FEC.

One company that is ready to provide such a service, m-Qube, joined the request to the FEC. Brett Kappel, one of the lawyers who wrote the brief, says m-Qube already serves as a phone donation "aggregator" for charities. The other two firms requesting approval of texted contributions are ArmourMedia, which lists the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee among its clients, and Red Blue T LLC, described in the letter to the FEC as "a political consulting firm whose principals have advised Republican presidential and congressional campaigns."

Individuals would be limited to giving $50 or less a month to any one political committee via text. Kappel predicted that most donations would come in amounts of $10. Supporters of the proposal argue its a way to bring the political money game into the digital arena and to engage young people. "Younger people like my children live on their phones," Kappel said. He added that President Obama's campaign, with its large database of small donors, could be a big beneficiary of a favorable decision by the FEC. "I should think they would want this request to go through," he said.

The FEC has 60 days to issue a draft ruling on the request.