The North American Bitcoin Conference (TNABC) kicked off this weekend with the surprise launch of the Chamber of Digital Commerce (CDC), a new lobbying group that aims to advocate for smart bitcoin regulation in Washington, DC through a three-part strategy combining government relations, media education and grassroots outreach.
Helmed by president and former Forbes columnist Perianne Boring, the CDC aspires to operate a $1.5m annual budget and will feature an advisory board composed of experienced regulators, former members of Congress and early Internet advocates.
While the CDC's statements suggest it has the tools at hand to move bitcoin's agenda forward in Washington, in a new interview with CoinDesk, Boring stressed that all these resources won't make up for the one that is slowly dwindling – time.
Boring told CoinDesk that she formed the CDC because she believes the industry must act now or risk having its innovative potential stamped out by harmful policies:
"I give bitcoin 12 to 18 months before its fate will be decided by lawmakers. We don't have a lot of time to tackle these issues, and if we don't, bitcoin will be narrowed down to a hobbyist niche and not a true industry."
Boring added that New York's new proposed regulations are an example of why bitcoin so badly needs better representation in government. These decisions, she said, are being made now, and more troubling, they're being made without the support of an authoritative group representing the industry.
"That's a huge problem. We absolutely do want to slow down these regulations," she said. "Small businesses are going to be really hurt by this onerous regulation."
The CDC issued a new press release today encouraging consumers to submit comments to the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) to fight what it called a regulatory framework that would severely debilitate the digital currency industry.
Called to action
A member of the University of Florida's Class of 2010, Boring has quickly built a reputation in the bitcoin industry and on Capitol Hill, where she served as both an intern for the White House and as a financial services, tax, healthcare and education analyst for Florida Representative Dennis Ross.
Boring later became captivated by bitcoin, an interest she pursued as a journalist prior to forming the CDC. It's this unique combination of experiences, Boring says, that gives her the credentials and passion to champion bitcoin in Washington.
"When I went into journalism, bitcoin was a topic I covered very closely, and through my time in journalism I fell in love with bitcoin and decided that this was what I wanted to do and I didn't want to do it as a journalist," Boring explained. "I wanted to have an integral role, and as someone who had just came from the HIll I saw there was a huge need for this, and I didn't see anyone else who could do it."
Despite optimism that bitcoin's perception in Washington is shifting as more politicians publicly support the technology, Boring indicated that she believes this is wishful thinking, saying:
"There's nobody else in DC that cares about bitcoin, bitcoin has a terrible reputation, people are scared to touch it, nobody wants to be involved with it, and a lot of it is a lack of understanding."
She also addressed any critics of her new role, saying: "Politics sometimes is not fun. It's a lot of name-calling. It's a cutthroat town, but it's extremely important. It should show how much I care about bitcoin that I care to do this because it's very difficult."
The case for the CDC
What makes the work so tough, Boring says, is that American politicians are still struggling to understand bitcoin and its related technologies, particularly just how widely applicable they are to various government entities.
A list of House and Senate committees the CDC plans to target names 11 groups – including the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Senate Committee on Agriculture – in addition to various federal and state regulatory agencies such as the Department of Justice and Federal Reserve.
Having the CDC operate full-time in Washington, Boring says, will give bitcoin a way to both educate and support these groups, one that she contends is lacking today.
"If I worked on the Hill and Western Union had come to me and said, 'Bitcoin is terrible and we need to ban it', and we needed to contact bitcoin to get their side of the story, who would I call?"
Boring contends that while a few firms – like bitcoin's chief trade organisation, the Bitcoin Foundation, and bitcoin hedge fund Falcon Global Capital – have hired lobbyists, these organizations are limited as they also represent other interests.
She added: "We really want to be a resource for public policy makers, government employees and also the press. A place where they can call and get straight answers to just basic questions so they can form smart regulation and cover the industry in a responsible way."
Building grassroots efforts
In addition to educating government entities and media outlets, the CDC also plans to establish and support grassroots-level intiatives, leveraging bitcoin's enthusiastic and growing user base as part of its outreach.
Boring outlined one such example of how this strategy will be put into action, saying:
"We'll be looking to build grassroots support, encouraging people to call Congress and call their regulators and ask them 'Are you accepting bitcoin donations?' or 'What is your stance on bitcoin?' so we can start getting this dialogue moving."
Key to this effort will be building the narrative that bitcoin is good for the US economy. The CDC, in its official launch release, suggested it believes the digital currency industry will generate $1tn annually within six years, growth that will impact companies and communities.
Boring noted that companies like Overstock have propelled the merchant market to recent growth, and that such a strategy should be pursued more broadly, stating:
"The community is very lucky to have such a great organization that's gone to bat for us, but we need more of those. We need to find more companies like Overstock that can tell their story and give them a platform to tell their story as well."
She said that such a push would in turn give greater confidence to more businesses and consumers, thus spurring consumer adopting and improved sentiment in Washington.
The CDC also aims to build trust in its organisation by being transparent about financing and how its money is spent.
Bitcoin Foundation response
Boring was also careful to frame her organisation's work in context of the Bitcoin Foundation, which to date has largely been digital currency's main advocacy body, both for the media and on Capitol Hill, although the agency has recently been marred by controversies.
Boring first addressed the relationship between the two groups during the CDC's unveiling at TNABC.
— CoinDesk (@coindesk) July 19, 2014
However, she suggested that her group will support the Bitcoin Foundation's efforts indirectly by helping to grow bitcoin, saying:
"There is so much work to do in Washington. That's why I welcome all initiatives because there's so much going on."
Boring suggested that she first approached the Bitcoin Foundation with her proposal for the CDC, and that she was encouraged to pursue the project independently.
Image via the Chamber of Digital Commerce