Sweden's general election is set to take place on 14th September, and one of the country's parliamentary candidates announced this week what could be a world first in campaign financing.
Mathias Sundin is a former Member of Parliament and the deputy mayor of the Swedish city Norrköping. He's running again this year for a seat in Parliament to represent the county of Östergötland. And as of 10th July his campaign accepts donations exclusively in bitcoin.
Speaking with CoinDesk, he said:
"Bitcoin – and other digital currencies – is a fantastic innovation. By accepting only bitcoin in my campaign … I want to spread the knowledge and also hope some new people will try it."
Sundin didn't disclose any numbers, but said that he immediately received about 30 donations on the day of the announcement.
Politics is becoming more global, he said, implying that elected officials everywhere need to make sure regulation to keeps up with innovation:
"In a couple of years three or four billion people will have a smart phone and all be connected with each other. From this there will be a lot of disruptive innovation that will be good for humanity. Strong forces will be challenged and they will come out fighting, so then we have to have politicians that see what is going on embrace the change in the world."
He added: "I really don't want any regulators coming and destroying or slowing down this development [of bitcoin innovation]."
Sundin said he is confident that the weight of his party, the Liberal People's Party (Folkpartiet), along with his existing financing will carry him through the election no matter how successful his fundraising efforts turn out.
"Even if I don't get that many donations I will stick with bitcoin through this campaign, and I hope and I think that the bitcoin community will help me out. Even if the donations don't stack up that high I will be able to run my campaign."
That being so, for him it's as much a bitcoin advocacy effort as it is campaign financing. Due to a lack of education and awareness of bitcoin, he said, too many readily accept the negative headlines they read. To that point, ill-informed theories and speculation about the digital currency tend to overshadow its real potential.
"The platform could be even more important than the currency," he said.
While Sundin follows other political candidates in accepting bitcoin for campaign contributions, he won't accept dollars, euros or even Swedish kronas. He could be the first to refuse donations in legal, fiat currency. Yesterday a United States Congressional candidate announced his campaign would also be raising bitcoin-only funds.
But the world population is looking increasingly like a small, global community, he suggested:
"It's a campaign in my county but the funding is worldwide. That says something about the world that we're living in and even more about the future."
Bitcoin is acceptable in Swedish political campaign fundraising to the point of 4.7 BTC, Sundin said.
Who is Mathias Sundin?
When asked what matters to him as a candidate, Sundin told CoinDesk his top priorities are continuing education reforms in Sweden, developing the country's tax system, working to protect the people's right to privacy and improving bitcoin education and awareness.
He called bitcoin his biggest priority.
And with the global community chatter about how attractive it could be for drug dealers, money launderers and agents of other illicit activity, Sundin is poised to neutralize such fears.
On privacy laws, he said: "It's very important to protect everyone's right to privacy and to balance our right to privacy with fighting crimes from terrorists."
"But my privacy concern with bitcoin is that all transactions are public. That is of course an important part of bitcoin, but governments might be able to use this as part of their surveillance. Therefore I don't think bitcoin will be very popular for criminal activity and terrorism."
One argument has been made repeatedly that bitcoin as a digital currency has a greater use case in developing and emerging economies than in countries with effectively stable financial systems; places that would more readily accept the change that comes with financial and technological innovation, with weak and fluctuating currencies, largely unbanked populations and rooted with political corruption.
By contrast, consumers in stable economies in North America and Europe can sooner enjoy new bitcoin innovation, products and services thanks to their stronger currencies, better access to financial services and electricity infrastructure. He said:
"Sweden has a pretty strong economy – a pretty good way compared to other Western countries. Our welfare and our human rights are not a given."
In the Scandinavian region alone, the first bitcoin ATM in Europe came out of Finland; auroracoin emerged out of Iceland as a national cryptocurrency distributed to the entire population; Safello, who by now have established themselves as the leading European bitcoin exchange, are based in Sweden.
But for the same reasons that innovation advances more quickly in Western markets, financial regulators in these regions are reluctant to accept bitcoin as a currency in what may already be well-functioning environments, a concern Sundin reiterated.
He said he wants to help bring Sweden to the forefront of the bitcoin industry. The bitcoin debate isn't a mainstream discussion in Sweden, he explained; few lawmakers have even thought about bitcoin. Swedes are often quick at adapting new technologies and have a "pretty strong startup community, especially around Stockholm".
Sunden also hinted at bitcoin's role in Sweden's economy, mentioning the prospects for creating many and high-paying jobs.
Emerging economies don't enjoy the same wealth, he added:
"Bitcoin is a real chance for the emerging economies to catch up, but at the same time we see that the investment in bitcoin companies is in the US. We [Sweden] have a well-built startup infrastructure, but we also have strong interest that will put pressure on lawmakers to slow down bitcoin. That might not be the case in all the emerging economies."
Swedish Parliament photo via Shutterstock