TIME technology

Colorado Congressman Seizes on New Bitcoin Rules

Jared Polis
Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., looks on during the Colorado Democratic Party's State Assembly in Denver on April 12, 2014 David Zalubowski—AP

Rep. Jared Polis of Coloardo has launched a website for supporters to contribute to his campaign using the digital currency, becoming the first to do so under new federal guidelines, and has received "well over" $1,000 worth of bitcoin in less than 24 hours

Almost immediately after regulators voted Thursday to allow small political contributions in the form of bitcoin, Rep. Jared Polis launched a website for supporters to contribute to his congressional campaign using the digital currency.

Though a smattering of other politicians have experimented with bitcoin contributions, the Colorado Democrat said he’s the first to do so under the Federal Election Commission’s new guidelines.

“I think there were one or two that toyed around with [bitcoin contributions] before these rules came out,” Polis told TIME. “But under the actual permission from the Federal Election Commission, we’ve been working on this for weeks expecting that a ruling would occur, so we were able to go live within hours of the ruling.”‘

Polis said he’s raised “well over” $1,000 in bitcoin contributions in less than 24 hours since his site went live. The FEC’s current rules cap bitcoin contributions at $100, but Polis says he’s ready to accept more if the Commission decides to increase the limits. Bitcoin’s value can fluctuate wildly, but as of Friday morning, one bitcoin was worth about $450.

Polis being quick to jump on the new bitcoin rules makes sense: Before coming to Congress, he was a technology entrepreneur, founding online greeting card site BlueMountainArts.com and, later, ProFlowers.com. His background has helped him become a player on technology policy issues, especially during the heated debate over the anti-piracy Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) a couple years ago. Polis has been outspoken in calling for the government to keep its hands off bitcoin, which has caught the eye of regulators in the U.S. and abroad, in part because the currency’s anonymous and difficult-to-track nature makes it a favorite for shady “deep web” online purchases of guns, drugs and other questionable transactions. Despite those concerns, Polis said there’s plenty of good in the currency as well.

“I’ve been a critic of colleagues of mine who seek to restrict or ban the currency,” Polis said. “I believe that alternative currencies add value, help reduce the cost of remittances, provide alternatives to conventional banking systems and can reduce transaction cost. So I think they offer a lot and government should tread lightly, and consumers should be wary as well because of the risks associated with them.”

On the surface, it would seem that allowing political contributions in an anonymous cryptocurrency like bitcoin is taking a step away from campaign finance transparency at a time when many are calling for exactly the opposite. Polis, however, was quick to point out that under the FEC’s new rules, he and other politicians are required to collect the same information from donors as they would with any other contributions. Why, then, would anybody bother contributing to a campaign with bitcoin instead of dollars?

“Somebody who is accustomed to dealing in dollars would likely donate in dollars,” Polis said. “However, there are more and more people that use bitcoin as a currency for engaging in e-commerce transactions and purchasing items on the Internet. And they would be inclined to also make their political donations in bitcoins.”

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