DeFi on the Ballot: Yearn Developer Matt West Is Running for Congress

The Oregon resident will be running on a pro-crypto platform as a Democrat.

AccessTimeIconOct 25, 2021 at 8:22 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 3:38 p.m. UTC
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First a MakerDAO lobbyist, now a Yearn candidate.

As regulatory stormclouds gather over Washington and crypto advocates seek to obtain a louder voice in U.S. politics, one Yearn.Finance developer is running for Congress on a pro-crypto platform.

That said, he may need the decentralized finance (DeFi) community’s help if he hopes to win.

On Oct. 12, Matt West declared his candidacy for Oregon’s newly formed 6th U.S. House district. West holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas in chemical engineering with a focus on renewable energy, and works at tech giant Intel on manufacturing.

In an interview with CoinDesk last month, West said he got involved with Yearn last year as a side gig.

“I got extremely bored with every day being the same, so I started stretching my brain a little bit, started teaching myself Solidity, started working with Yearn, worked with a partner and won their hackathon last year – we integrated Hegic to create that now-defunct vault,” he said.

Until recently he’s been working with the team from no-loss lottery protocol PoolTogether on Yearn’s stablecoin yield farming strategies.

PoolTogether founder Leighton Cusack recently took to Twitter to express support for West’s candidacy:

West is notable for being perhaps the first DeFi-literate candidate to run for office, and is certainly the first DeFi developer to launch a campaign.

It’s a welcome development for advocates who believe recent actions from legislators – such as an amendment to an infrastructure bill that nearly rendered running an Ethereum node legally impossible – are out of touch and destructive.

Indeed, over the summer Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) decried crypto’s “shadowy super-coders” – a label that West wears proudly.

“You know, when Warren said that, I said, ‘She’s not wrong,’” he joked.

But while many would-be crypto candidates are generally focused on one issue, West says the seed for his run was planted years ago, and his platform reflects that.

“My state’s constantly on fire, there’s federal overreach, there’s outside protestors like the Proud Boys coming in to start riots – it came to a breaking point,” he told CoinDesk of his decision to run.

Making a difference

A growing number of crypto advocates have toyed with runs in the wake of recent regulatory scrutiny.

Messari founder Ryan Selkis is currently threatening a 2024 run for Senate.

Popular crypto talk show host and proud Alabaman Brian Krogsgard, better known as Ledger, has also publicly mused on a run for Senate.

While both Selkis and Krogsgard were spurred to action by events in the crypto-sphere, West says his decision to run came after he saw the crackdown on the Black Lives Matter protests.

“I live in the suburbs of Portland, and my city’s been through hell and back in the last few years. Watching the federal government coming in and kidnapping our civilians off the streets in unmarked vans and taking them to undisclosed locations – that was incredibly terrifying,” he said.

These views might seem at odds with crypto-bro culture at first blush, but West argues that individuals contributing to the technology sport a variety of ideological stripes.

“Crypto is an interesting space. You have die-hard libertarians and people trying to do universal basic income in the same field,” he said. “To crib from the Republicans, it’s a big tent.”

Unlike Krogsgard and Selkis, West is doing more than just talking about a run: He has filed with the relevant authorities, hired a dedicated campaign manager and has been paying out of pocket for legal consultations related to accepting crypto donations.

“This isn’t a vanity project for me. I want to make a difference, and if I can’t do it like this I’ll find another way,” he said.

Know thy neighbor

It remains somewhat up in the air who West’s competition will be since the borders of Oregon’s 6th district were only finalized on Sept. 27.

“It’s a brand-new district, so we don’t really know who’s running yet. We’re going to wait and see – it’ll be an open seat, so it’ll be more of a competitive primary than a competitive general, would be my guess,” West said.

He does believe, however, his positions will end up being well aligned with a strongly Democratic district.

“My actual politics are pretty leftist,” he said, noting that he holds “pro unionization, pro living wage” views and that he is vocal about the importance of addressing global climate change – a noted bugaboo for environmentalists that often view crypto with suspicion, if not outright hostility.

He doesn’t think climate activists will hold his crypto credentials against him, however.

“I think my chances become fairly good when you add in that I’ve been in Oregon for some time, I did research on global warming in grad school, for my job I’ve been in the research and development facility at Intel helping design future manufacturing processes – I’ve got academia, global warming and industry experience.”

Money matters

West is quick to admit that, as a relative outsider, his odds hinge primarily on what he can raise.

“It’s really a matter of riding momentum – it’s a sad fact of politics that early money might determine the issue,” he said.

He started his campaign by “putting in a little bit to get started and to self-fund the wheels,” including hiring staff and conducting preliminary research.

Now that he’s declared, however, he says he needs the community’s support – he even held off on announcing his run on Twitter until his campaign and BitPay managed to navigate the legal hurdles presented by crypto donations.

“It was a big deal for me to accept crypto donations from the start of the campaign. There are a few folks who run as crypto-friendly and take donations, but as someone who is coming directly from the crypto community as a developer and contributor it wasn’t just a marketing gimmick,” he said. “I wanted to show to the crypto community that they matter to me.”


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Andrew Thurman

Andrew Thurman was a tech reporter at CoinDesk with a focus on DeFi.

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