According to a newly arrived press release, Democratic congressmember and presidential candidate Eric Swallwell is now taking donations in bitcoin. The strategy seems to have more to do with an actual belief in blockchain technology than practical fundraising considerations:
“Blockchain can change the world, if we let it. So much of our public life now exists online, and there’s no reason to believe we can’t extend this further into our democracy and our economy – from exercising our right to vote, to how we look at cryptocurrency,” Swalwell said.
The person behind the company he’s using for the transactions makes a direct connection to another Democratic fundraising innovation a decade ago:
“Obama’ [sic] fundraising benefited heavily from social media technology and Swalwell will benefit from blockchain technology. ‘Politicians embraced social media and crowdfunding after Obama’s success, we expect most if not all candidates will start using blockchain solutions soon.’ [Elizabeth] White said, ‘By enabling crypto donations, Swalwell not only makes it easier for them to support his campaign but also shows how he values the democratization of financial services to everyone, not just the wealthy.’
Let’s unpack this:
- Swallwell isn’t the first candidate to accept blockchain donations, nor is he the first presidential candidate to do so (Rand Paul beat him to it, one of several U.S. campaigns to have raised money via bitcoin before today).
- The Obama reference repeats a popular myth about his fundraising — while the campaign certainly benefited from the social-media enthusiasm of his followers, it raised by far the bulk of its digital money via email, not Facebook or Twitter.
- I don’t quite see how this decision shows that Swallwell “values the democratization of financial services to everyone, not just the wealthy”, since just about every American with two dimes to rub together has the “credit cards” most of us use for online transactions like political donations. Plus, these days bitcoin seems to me more like a speculative market than a viable replacement currency — not exactly a democratizing element in our society.
Swallwell’s acceptance of blockchain fundraising does strike me as interesting, since it’s always POSSIBLE that it could take off as a donation tool at some point. It’s also obvious that he personally cares about the technology, so it makes sense that he might emphasize it in his own campaign.
But do I think bitcoin will make one whit of difference in who wins the Democratic nomination this time? No. Do I think it will constitute more than a miniscule percentage of political donations between now and 2020? No. Will this decision win Swallwell points with bitcoin enthusiasts? Probably — and that may be the real point.