Wisconsin Libertarian’s inquiry elicits ethics commission hearing on bitcoin campaign donations

Phil Anderson, the Wisconsin Libertarian Party chair and 2018 gubernatorial candidate, has spearheaded a request to Wisconsin’s state ethics commission for guidelines on political campaigns’ acceptance of donations of digital currency.

Anderson’s questions and the resultant public hearing were covered in the Wisconsin State Journal. From the April 24 article, “Want to give digital currency to a political campaign? State ethics panel mulls if and how,” by Mark Sommerhauser:

If and how digital currencies such as bitcoin can be used to make campaign contributions in Wisconsin remains an open question, after the state Ethics Commission considered it Tuesday.

The commission was asked by the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin to give guidelines for the use of digital currencies in campaign giving and spending.

Commissioners discussed and held a public hearing on the request [on April 24] but did not immediately act. Asked when the commission might revisit the issue, its staff counsel, David Buerger, said its closed-session deliberations on the matter are confidential and he could not comment on them.

Buerger said in the absence of clear direction from the commission, campaigns “would be accepting the crypto-currency contribution at their own risk.”

The anonymity inherent in digital currency transactions caused at least one commissioner, Republican Pat Strachota, to balk at the prospect of sanctioning their use.

“If we can’t accurately and immediately describe who’s donating these funds, there’s a hesitation on my behalf to allow it,” Strachota said.

Digital, or crypto-, currencies, of which bitcoin is the most widely known, are online-only forms of currency that are not governed by authorities such as a central bank, and that allow users to spend money anonymously.

The “coins” are created by users who “mine” them by lending computing power to verify other users’ transactions. They receive bitcoins in exchange. The coins also can be bought and sold on exchanges with U.S. dollars and other currencies.

Bitcoins are basically lines of computer code that are digitally signed each time they travel from one owner to the next. Transactions can be made anonymously, making the currency popular with libertarians as well as tech enthusiasts, speculators — and criminals.

The request to the commission from Phil Anderson, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin, argues that digital currencies “are more and more widely accepted as currency and as stores of value.”

“The (Chicago Board Options Exchange) offers a futures market for bitcoin, and other financial platforms, corporations and governments are weighing in on not ‘whether’ to address crypto-currencies, but ‘how?’?” Anderson wrote to the commission in the request.

Among Anderson’s questions is how such digital currency contributions would be counted toward state campaign contribution limits set in dollars.

The state of California has urged campaigns not to accept digital currency contributions — though it does not prohibit the practice. The Federal Election Commission permits digital currency to be donated to campaigns for federal office, counting such donations as “in-kind” contributions, such as a gift of materials.

Buerger said [on April 23] that he’s not aware of any instances in Wisconsin in which digital currency contributions to state campaigns were given or accepted.

Commissioners suggested that if digital currency were counted as a monetary, rather than in-kind, contribution, it potentially would be subject to a $100 contribution limit in state law that applies to cash contributions. The law says any larger contribution must be made by means such as a credit card or check.

Digital currencies lack the sort of central authority such as the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve System, which print and manage the U.S. dollar. For that reason, they have been championed by those, such as many libertarians, who oppose government control of currency. Bitcoin speculation, and a recent spike in its value, also [have] drawn attention to it.

Learn more about Anderson for Governor at TeamGuv.org.

Visit the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin at LPWi.org.