Not surprisingly, Americans of all ages are embracing technological innovations. If it makes us more efficient and our lives easier, we explore and adapt. When these innovations come up against politics and the regulations surrounding political campaigns in the most influential country in the world, the process is not so simple.
Take for example the August 5 brief from Google to the Federal Election Commission seeking an exemption from disclaimer rules for the short political Google AdWords. After two months and five draft opinions, the commissioners agreed that the ads should be allowed, but could not agree as to why.
A month later, and following Google's lead, CTIA, the trade association representing the wireless industry, petitioned the FEC. They asked that small contributions to federal candidates and other Federal political committees initiated by text messages to Common Short Codes (CSCs) over wireless networks be permitted. After three drafts and about six weeks, the FEC rejected the CTIA's petition.
The decisions are evidence that while America has become accustomed to Google Adwords and the idea of making donations to various causes via text message, our political system is not able to adapt quickly to new innovations and tools that can help foster new forms of political activism.
On November 8, I sent a letter to the FEC recommending the commission form an advisory committee comprised of leaders in the technology and political fields to help keep the FEC abreast of the latest developments and tools and their likely effect on campaigns, from contributions to voter contact. This advisory committee should consist of individuals with expertise in technology, political campaigns and campaign regulations. My main point is that rapidly shifting technology can bring confusion to political campaigns and to the FEC. For instance, when the FEC ruled that the Google Ads were permissible but did not provide a rationale as to why, many unanswered questions remain.
The FEC's CTIA decision highlights another innovation for which Americans are ready, but the FEC is not. In the wake of the Haiti earthquake, the Red Cross raised tens of millions of dollars through $10 dollar donations made via text message. The potential for political campaigns is obvious, but it also provides voters with a new platform to engage with those campaigns. An expert panel can help the FEC sort through the promise and potential problems of this issue to ensure that new practices are consistent with established rules.
Technology is shaping 21st century America and the world. Our political system has shown it can adapt the best innovations and put them to work for voters. It is our hope that the FEC will position itself to lead the way.