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- Cryptocurrency accounts for a tiny fraction of the billions of dollars flowing into federal elections.
- But candidates and political committees are increasingly interested in accepting bitcoin and altcoins.
- Advocates offer several reasons for going politi-crypto: convenience, inclusion, privacy.
Are you a political candidate or lead a political committee and accept cryptocurrency? We want to hear from you. Email the authors of this article.
As candidates begin campaigning ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, credit cards, debit cards, and old-fashioned paper checks remain the coin of the realm for fueling their political efforts.
But a growing number are accepting cryptocurrencies, citing various reasons — inclusion, convenience, tax benefits, privacy — for doing so.
At best, rules for raising and spending cryptocurrency in federal elections are iffy. Congress has passed no law directly addressing the matter.
Guidelines that do exist, such as they are, largely stem from a 2014 advisory opinion by the Federal Election Commission that, most notably, established that political committees have the right to accept bitcoin.
The FEC likewise ruled that committees “should value that contribution based on the market value of bitcoins at the time the contribution is received.” If the price of bitcoin goes up while a political committee is in possession of it, the committee may legally profit.
The FEC’s ruling, however, is also rife with unanswered questions:
- Commissioners couldn’t agree on whether political committees may directly “purchase goods and services with bitcoins it has received as contributions.”
- The ruling specifically addresses bitcoin, the predominant cryptocurrency used in political elections, but doesn’t address by name various altcoins that have proliferated during the past seven years.
- While the FEC expressly says that political committees may accept up to $100 worth of bitcoin, it’s silent on whether it’s legal for committees to accept more. (Several have done so without ramification or otherwise found work-arounds. More about that soon.)
- Can super PACs, which may legally accept unlimited amounts of money to advocate for or against politicians, accept unlimited amounts of cryptocurrency? The FEC didn’t say.
- While the FEC provides guidelines for publicly reporting cryptocurrency contributions, an Insider review of federal records and data provided by nonpartisan research organization OpenSecrets indicates political committees have not consistently followed them.
“Now is probably a good time for the government to start thinking about the most effective way to regulate cryptocurrency in our political campaigns,” said Austin Graham, an attorney at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.
Here are 17 federal political candidates and political committees that have, of late, led the way into the uncertain realm of cryptocurrency and elections.
Andrew Yang, former candidate for president and New York City mayor
The former technology entrepreneur, who announced in October that he is leaving the Democratic Party, is starting a new political party, The Forward Party — which will accept donations in cryptocurrency.
“Yes! We will have a BitPay page for accepting donations soon,” says the party website FAQ.
Yang touted a universal basic income as his signature policy during his 2020 Democratic presidential primary campaign, and he tweeted in August that cryptocurrency is “one path” to the policy. During that campaign, FEC records show that he accepted bitcoin and ethereum contributions but he did not liquidate all of them.
Yang was asked on Twitter whether he would make advancing bitcoin and the free market a primary part of his Forward Party campaign.
“Big proponent of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies generally — and want to allow fiat prices to go down as they should as things get more efficient instead of assuming the inflation model,” Yang responded.
Chamber of Digital Commerce PAC
In October 2020, the Chamber of Digital Commerce’s political action committee wanted to make a pro-cryptocurrency statement.
So it contributed $50 worth of bitcoin to every member of Congress regardless of their politics — from ultra-liberal Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York to archconservative Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz in Florida.
“There’s a very large education gap in Congress involving bitcoin, and we wanted to give members a hands-on experience with the technology,” Chamber of Digital Commerce President Perianne Boring told Insider.
About a dozen political campaigns have recently asked the Chamber of Digital Commerce about how to best accept cryptocurrency payments, Boring said, adding that her organization has a website, Crypto for Congress, that provides details. It also published a 20-page “Crypto for Congress Toolkit.”
“This is the future, it’s where politics are going,” Boring said. “People should have options to donate, and campaigns should have options to reach different kinds of people.”
Boring declined to say whether the Chamber of Digital Commerce’s PAC would again donate cryptocurrency to members of Congress running for re-election in 2022.
National Republican Congressional Committee
House Republicans’ campaign arm announced in June that it would be the first national party committee to start accepting cryptocurrency campaign contributions.
The committee is accepting the currency using Bitpay, a cryptocurrency payment service, and crypto donations are converted into dollars before landing in their account. That allows the committee to accept individual donations of up to $10,000 per year instead of the $100-value for transfers of cryptocurrency, Axios reported.
The NRCC is led by Rep. Tom Emmer, a Minnesota Republican who is a cryptocurrency advocate and co-chairman of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus, which promotes a “hands-off regulatory approach” to blockchain technology.
Announcing the decision, Emmer said, “We are focused on pursuing every avenue possible to further our mission of stopping Nancy Pelosi’s socialist agenda and retaking the House majority, and this innovative technology will help provide Republicans the resources we need to succeed.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from California
Swalwell, a California Democrat and short-lived 2020 presidential contender, has not been shy about his crypto cravings.
While vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, Swalwell said he would accept campaign contributions in the form of a half-dozen cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, ether, and stellar.
A blockchain firm, The White Company, made the announcement on Swalwell’s behalf and provided the tech support for donations to his campaign.
As Coindesk reported, Swalwell has spoken in support of cryptocurrency in the past.
“Blockchain can change the world, if we let it,” he said in 2019. “So much of our public life now exists online, and there’s no reason to believe we can’t extend this further into our democracy and our economy — from exercising our right to vote, to how we look at cryptocurrency.”
Laura Loomer, a former Republican congressional candidate
Loomer, a far-right, anti-Muslim political activist, offered options to donate with cryptocurrency on her congressional campaign website. She was defeated last year in her bid to unseat Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of Florida.
“Bitcoin promotes financial freedom,” Loomer told the publication Government Technology last year. “We are telling the old power structure that we don’t need them anymore.
During the Bitcoin 2021 conference, she heckled Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey over “censorship” and “interfering in elections” as he delivered a speech.
Matthew Diemer, a Democratic congressional candidate from Ohio
Diemer said his campaign is accepting cryptocurrency donations to support the community, the technology, and innovation in general.
“It’s kind of like, why drive an electric car if there’s more gas stations?” he told Insider. “Because you want to support the green environment, you want to support the electric car companies.”
He accepts the currency using the company Bitpay, so all such contributions land in his account as converted dollars. This year he has raised about $900 from donations that were converted from cryptocurrency, according to his own records. (He donated $50 to try out the system.)
Diemer said he and other Democratic candidates are asking the online fundraising platform ActBlue to accept cryptocurrency so that “people can go to one link and donate the way that they want to donate.”
Blake Masters, a Republican US Senate candidate in Arizona
Masters, who’s angling to challenge Democratic US Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona in 2022, told supporters in September that his campaign is now accepting bitcoin — and invited them to Twitter direct message or email him directly “for info & to donate.”
Masters himself is a major cryptocurrency investor, with seven-figure holdings in bitcoin, litecoin, dogecoin, filecoin, ethereum, bitcoin cash, ZCash, and tezos combined, according to a personal financial disclosure he filed October 7 with the US Senate.
Florida Conservative Fund
The Florida Conservative Fund, a super PAC, reported receiving a contribution — “3.0485 Bitcoins received, not liquidated” — in May 2018, according to a disclosure with the Federal Election Commission. In the disclosure, it valued the contribution at $25,000.
The fund did not hold onto the cryptocurrency for long. Within three months, in early August 2018, the Florida Conservative Fund liquidated the Bitcoin and paid a $332 exchange fee to Coinbase, a popular cryptocurrency exchange.
The contribution came from Castar Capital, a firm linked to Chuck Johnson, whom Gaetz, the embattled congressman from Florida, invited to the State of the Union address earlier that year. As Open Secrets reported, Gaetz had previously distanced himself from Johnson after the Republican Jewish Coalition and Anti-Defamation League labeled him a Holocaust denier.
Three years later, Gaetz is facing a federal sex trafficking investigation. A one-time associate of his, Joel Greenberg, has pleaded guilty to sex trafficking a 17-year-old girl and told prosecutors he witnessed the Republican lawmaker having sex with her. Gaetz has denied having sex with a 17-year-old and said he has never paid for sex.
The fund’s treasurer, Nancy Watkins, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Rep. Tom Emmer, a Republican from Minnesota
Emmer, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, read “The Age of Cryptocurrency” in 2015 and quickly became smitten with the stuff.
In recent years, Emmer has emerged as a vocal defender of cryptocurrency. Just last week, he pushed back against the Securities and Exchange Commission’s effort to expand the regulation of Bitcoin and other digital tokens.
Emmer is also inviting cryptocurrency into his campaign coffers. The Minnesota Republican said last year that he would accept crypto-donations.
In an interview, Emmer spokeswoman Abby Rime said the campaign liquidates cryptocurrency donations upon receipt and reports their cash value, explaining why bitcoin and other currencies don’t appear in the Republican’s financial disclosures.
Rime said cryptocurrency donations amount to a minimal portion of the overall contributions to the Republican’s reelection efforts.
Rime said the call for cryptocurrency donations was intended, in part, to “generate some conversations with his colleagues so that he can educate them about what the potential benefits are to not overregulating.”
3.14 Action Fund
During the 2018 election cycle, the 3.14 Action Fund — its mission is to “elect more scientists to Congress, state legislatures, and local offices” — reported accepting more than $187,000 in bitcoin and ethereum in total from seven different donors, according to FEC records.
“That cycle, we had donors who wanted to contribute using cryptocurrency, so we made a decision to accept it. It’s not really different from accepting stock, which groups do regularly,” 3.14 Action Fund spokesperson Alexandra De Luca told Insider.
Since then, however, no donor has asked to contribute to the 3.14 Action Fund using cryptocurrency, and the group does not “currently retain assets in cryptocurrency,” De Luca said.
Brian Forde, a former Democratic congressional candidate in California
Forde, who unsuccessfully ran for California’s 45th congressional district seat in 2018, to this day ranks as one of the most successful crypto-candidates in US history, raising just short of $200,000 in bitcoin.
Independent 2020 presidential candidate Brock Pierce, a billionaire, was among several dozen people who donated bitcoin to Forde’s campaign.
Forde did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment, but he explained to Politico in 2018 that he’d accept contributions most any way his supporters wanted to make them.
“We’ll take contributions via check, we’ll take contributions via credit card, we’ll take donations via cryptocurrency,” said Forde, who worked as a White House technology advisor during President Barack Obama’s administration. “There are people in the cryptocurrency community who come to our fundraisers, and we welcome them.”
Rep. Darren Soto, a Democrat from Florida
Soto found legislative success this year with a pair of cryptocurrency-related bills. In June, the Florida Democrat applauded the passage of legislation directing federal agencies to submit reports on blockchain technology and deceptive practices involving digital tokens.
His embrace of cryptocurrency has extended to the campaign trail.
Soto, a co-chairman of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus, reported receiving two donations — one worth $10, another $70 at the time of receipt — in the form of “Bitcoins not liquidated,” according to disclosures filed with the FEC.
Kelli Ward, a former US Senate candidate in Arizona
In her unsuccessful Senate run, Kelli Ward opened a portal for supporters to make contributions in the form of cryptocurrency.
Through a spokesman, Ward, now the chairwoman of the Arizona Republican Party, recalled that her campaign set up a mechanism for accepting cryptocurrency but wasn’t familiar with how it worked.
On the lack of crypto-support, Ward said, “I guess I was ahead of my time,” the spokesman relayed to Insider.
Eric Brakey, a Republican and 2020 US House candidate from Maine
But it was as a successful candidate for Maine Senate in 2014 that Brakey became a political innovator, accepting cryptocurrency at a time when many politicians had little idea what cryptocurrency even was.
“The Maine Ethics Commission has to invent a whole new procedure because nobody has really tried this,” Brakey told Insider.
As a congressional candidate, Brakey said a few of his donors wanted to specifically contribute in cryptocurrency, and he was happy to oblige. One advantage for political donors contributing to candidates in cryptocurrency, Brakey noted, is that they may do so without converting the asset into cash, thereby avoiding capital gains taxes.
“To some degree, it’s still a novelty,” Brakey said. “But I think it’ll become more and more common in campaigns.”
Former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California
Rohrabacher, whose pro-Russia politics helped precipitate the end of his career in elected politics, received several bitcoin contributions during his failed 2018 re-election campaign, together valued at more than $10,000, according to FEC records.
Austin Petersen, a 2018 US Senate candidate in Missouri
The former GOP candidate experienced the other side of the bitcoin when he had to turn down a $130,276 donation in 2018.
“To whoever tried to give us $130,276 in #Bitcoin on Saturday, we had to refuse your donation,” he wrote on Facebook. “Please donate $5400 to http://austinpetersen.com/bitcoin in order to comply with FEC regulations. Also, start a PAC or something mate!”
Petersen, who founded the website The Libertarian Republic, lost his GOP Senate primary bid to Josh Hawley, who now represents Missouri. He also tried but failed to win the Libertarian Party’s 2016 presidential nomination.
“I am a big fan of the digital currency community because of what it represents, which is ultimately decentralization,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2017.
Adam Kokesh, 2018 Libertarian US Senate candidate and 2020 Libertarian presidential candidate
Kokesh ran for president as a Libertarian in 2020, and before that, as a Libertarian write-in candidate for US Senate in Arizona.
He personally made a series of three- and four-figure cryptocurrency contributions to his campaign committee in 2018, federal records indicate.