President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is reportedly fighting cellphone carriers over the right to send Americans unsolicited texts. According to Business Insider, the campaign’s lawyers are in active talks with phone companies after a third-party screening tool blocked Trump texts in early July. The campaign alleges that screening the texts amounts to suppressing political speech, while carriers fear allowing them will result in fines for violating anti-spam rules.
The 2020 election has brought a wave of text messages from across the political spectrum, particularly with the pandemic limiting in-person outreach. Many users didn’t opt in to these missives, and it’s unclear whether they violate federal laws meant to curb unwanted texts. The Trump administration, meanwhile, has imposed steeper fines for spammy and illegal robocalls. That’s reportedly put carriers on edge despite Trump’s campaign contending it’s not illegally automating texts.
A campaign spokesperson told The Verge that it stands by its programs. “Any effort by the carriers to restrict the campaign from contacting its supporters is suppression of political speech. Plain and simple.” Spokespeople for AT&T and Verizon directed us to the CTIA wireless industry group, which said in a statement that “we expect all senders – whether airlines, schools, banks or campaigns – to include clear opt-out language and gain prior consent before sending a text. These simple steps help protect consumers from spam, and maintain text messaging as a trusted medium for everyone.” T-Mobile declined to comment on the record.
Business Insider, however, describes a “standoff” between Trump and carriers, mediated at one point by Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who apparently called the CEOs of Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile to complain about the block.
Political operatives have generally been pushing for more leeway to make calls and send texts. The Supreme Court recently ruled against the American Association of Political Consultants, who argued robocalling bans violated the First Amendment. But Trump’s campaign has drawn particular criticism for aggressively sending mass texts, including multiple lawsuits.
Update 3:45PM ET: Added responses from Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and CTIA.