The rise and fall of a short-lived organization that dealt solely in bitcoins made a big statement this week, while also raising more concerns about the controversial cybercurrency. The bitcoin voters PAC (BVPAC) launched online on January 6, but closed up shop two days later due to legal concerns at the state level.
The bitcoin voters PAC (BVPAC) was the first super PAC to file with the federal election commission listing bitcoin receiving addresses and was authorized by the FEC as an independent-expenditure only committee. BVPAC's mission was to raise awareness about bitcoin itself and it capabilities in campaign fundraising.
A statement on the defunct organization's website's homepage reads: "Due to the new compliance issues at the state level, we are unable to continue operations at this time. We would like to thank the FEC for their acceptance of bitcoin addresses instead of a bank account for deposits. While we could just take dollars and continue, the decision is to wait until someone with better legal representation argues that bitcoin should be allowed for expenditures as well."
The FEC issued a draft opinion in November, 2013 proposing that bitcoins could be accepted as "in-kind" contributions because they could be considered a gift contribution and not a real currency. However, the bitcoins could not be directly disbursed and would have to be sold for regular currency which could then be used for campaign funding. The draft has not been officially adopted yet as the commissioners couldn't come to a consensus on the request.
According to a blog post from the Sunlight Foundation, BVPAC was created and run by Richard Wagner, a 46-year-old elementary school science teacher from Madison, Wisconsin. Mr. Wagner, who describes himself as a "moderate democrat," told the Sunlight Foundation that when he originally came across bitcoin in 2011 he assumed it was an elaborate Ponzi shceme. Since then, he has become a bitcoin enthusiast and has even purchased clothing from an online retailer that accepts bitcoins.
In a press release announcing the launch of the PAC, Mr. Wagner said that the PAC would educate Americans about bitcoin itself.
"Advancing the bitcoin economy will benefit all Americans, even those who have never heard of bitcoin," he said. "For example, it will lead to better security and privacy in electronic transactions. Our goal is to build a way for voters to play an active role in shaping digital and economic policy to ensure that bitcoin has a secure place in America."
Mr. Wagner told the Sunlight Foundation that he had planned to use the PAC to experiment with less centralized methods of campaign planning.
"For example, one idea was to crowdsource messages to display on crowdfunded billboard space -- all paid for using a decentralized cryptocurrency," Eric Mill wrote in a Sunlight Foundation blog post.
The BVPAC ultimately had to close due to uncertainty of the legality of operations on the state level, according to Mr. Wagner. The question of how to pay for state filing fees with bitcoins was especially troubling. BVPAC was able to file with the FEC because it does not require a fee but the state government does. Unanswered questions concerning the new currency prompted Mr. Wagner to shut down the sight and destroy its digital wallets. While BVPAC ended up with 0 bitcoins in its coffers, it made a statement for the potential for bitcoins in campaign finance.
In the PACs closing press release, Mr. Wagner thanked supporters for their interest in advancing the bitcoin economy.
"Thanks to those who helped with this project. I think we have demonstrated that there is at least some will among American voters to spend their bitcoins in campaigns," he said.
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