A carefully selected group of US Congress members will soon receive bitcoin donations in the mail. For some, it will likely be the first time they come into direct contact with digital currency.
Led by a Washington, DC-based political action committee (PAC) focused on bitcoin policy called BitPAC, the initiative will distribute $250 worth of bitcoin in paper wallets to eight members of Congress, including Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Paul Ryan (R-WI).
Speaking to CoinDesk, BitPAC founder Dan Backer said that he expects the initiative to have an impact on Capitol Hill, which he believes must become familiar with decentralized money.
In May, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) offered more direction, issuing a report advising that political campaigns and action committees could accept bitcoin donations.
Yet, Backer said that the FEC needs to do more:
"The FEC’s guidance [only] created a safe harbor of permissible activity."
Backer told CoinDesk that the donations are in the mail, and will be delivered sometime this week.
BitPAC’s funding comes from an assortment of donors, many whom want to put pressure on US policymakers to make concrete decisions regarding bitcoin and broader campaign finance law.
An attorney, Backer represented the Conservative Action Fund as it sought clarity as to whether political campaigns could accept bitcoin for fundraising. The formal request led to a November 2013 FEC hearing that concluded with guidance that bitcoin should be treated as an in-kind donation.
Backer believes his BitPAC donations represent a pivotal step toward US politicians realizing the value of bitcoin as a tool for political fundraising, though the process by which this occurs may be unorthodox.
Backer told CoinDesk:
“I think whomever on their staff gets [the paper wallet] will scratch their head. It’ll go up the ladder, someone will call the FEC which will be of no help, and someone will decide that money is money and they will accept and liquidate the transaction.”
As such, Backer and his group chose to issue paper bitcoin wallets to the politicians. Paper wallets hold the public and private keys to bitcoin represented on the technology's block chain, or general ledger.
Backer told CoinDesk:
“For these first ‘baby steps’, we think paper is the easier way to go."
Backer said that the $250 amount was chosen because it's above the $200.01 threshold reportable by a recipient as an itemized donation.
“Candidates must identify, for example, all PACs and party committees that give them contributions, and they must identify individuals who give them more than $200 in an election cycle.”
Given the history of price volatility in bitcoin, $250 measured in today's BTC value provides enough of a cushion to meet that requirement once these donations are reported as in-kind.
Pressuring the FEC
BitPAC’s aim right now is to focus on clarifying election laws that may relate to bitcoin. This is why the group has targeted both Republicans and Democrats, and members of the government's two legislative bodies, the House of Republicans and US Senate.
The donations are meant to entice members of Congress to pressure the FEC, as BitPAC wants the FEC to provide more guidance to solidify the digital currency's use in political fundraising.
“Certainly it keeps the issue at the forefront as the FEC considers this,” said Backer.
He told CoinDesk that while some of the selected members of Congress have never had to deal with bitcoin, they're unlikely to turn down a campaign donation.
Capitol image via Shutterstock