WASHINGTON -- You can punch in a few numbers on your cellphone and donate money to your favorite presidential or congressional candidate under a rule approved tonight by the Federal Election Commission that allows political contributions via text message.
Proponents say the new policy catches up with technology and will encourage more grass-roots giving in an era where corporations, unions and wealthy individuals are giving millions to fuel super PACs.
Under the rule, an aggregation firm will track donations to ensure that no more than $50 a month goes to a candidate from a single cellphone number. Election rules limit anonymous donations to $50 a month.
The months-long debate at the agency over texting donations did offer a rare moment of agreement in politics: Both the Obama and Romney campaigns support the plan.
The ruling could open the door to a flood of small donations, said David All, a veteran political and technology strategist. Candidates can quickly solicit thousands of real-time donations from their supporters, and the move "lowers the barrier of entry" for potential donors, he said.
In this hyper-connected era, "people leave home without their keys and wallets, but no one leaves home without their phones," All said.
Charitable groups have effectively used mobile technology to receive donations in the wake of natural disasters.
Within two weeks of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that devastated Haiti, for instance, American wireless subscribers used their cellphones to pledge $30 million for relief efforts, according to the mGive Foundation, a Denver non-profit group that processes mobile donations for charities such as the American Red Cross.
"It's literally four strokes to give that $10 donation," said Jennifer Snyder, the foundation's executive director. "It makes philanthropy accessible to all."
Campaign-finance regulators had been slow to extend the practice to political giving.
Only California and Maryland allowed campaign contributions via cellphone to state and local candidates before today's action by the FEC. The Hill newspaper reported last week that at least one FEC commissioner, Steven Walther, expressed concern that donors could obscure their identities by using multiple pre-paid mobile phones.
In the end, the rule was approved unanimously.