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A politician in every cell phone

A federal commission says senders of text-based political ads don't have to disclose who funded them. Could this lead to anonymous political spam?

In a decision that treats text messaging on mobile phones essentially the same as bumper stickers, the Federal Election Commission has declared that senders of text-based political ads don't have to disclose who funded them.

In an advisory opinion issued Thursday, the FEC also suggested such messages include either a phone number or Web site link, so people could easily learn who paid for the message. However, the additional information won't be required.

The opinion could encourage the adoption of text-based political ads, as campaign experts look for new technological ways to sway voters. At the same time, opponents of the plan fear it could lead to anonymous political spam.

Target Wireless, a small New Jersey-based wireless media company, had asked the FEC for an opinion on the matter, saying that requiring financial disclosures on short messaging service (SMS) mailings would use up too much of the 160 character-maximum.

Political messages on bumper stickers and buttons are also exempt from the financial disclosure requirement. Target Wireless' petition was supported by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, and some advertising trade groups.

FEC spokesman Bob Biersack said the opinion was in keeping with the commission's policy not to meddle with new technology that has the potential to reach more voters.

"We have tried very hard not to get in the way--particularly before everyone understands how the technology is going to work," he said.

Opponents of the plan have worried the exemption might encourage spam or allow senders to blast people with mass amounts of negative political messages while remaining anonymous.

Biersack said the FEC can revisit the issue if those problems surface.

Target Wireless President Craig Krueger characterized the opinion as "good for America."

"It will allow people to receive more communication from those running for office," he said. "We have free speech on our side."