An Oregon political campaign wants your digital donations. The group behind the initiative to legalize recreational marijuana says it's now accepting bitcoin contributions. Salem Correspondent Chris Lehman reports on this new frontier in campaign finance.
Bitcoins are growing in popularity despite their frequently volatile value. Nationally, some congressional candidates started accepting the virtual currency after the Federal Elections Commission gave them the go-ahead in May. Here in Oregon, the marijuana legalization campaign has already received bitcoin donations from as far away as Australia. Peter Zuckerman is its communications director:
Zuckerman: "I just thought it was a neat thing to try. It's nothing that we've done before and I don't know how it's going to work but I think it could work really well and I'm excited about the prospect."
Under federal rules, bitcoins must be converted into dollars immediately before they can be used. State campaigns don’t necessarily have that restriction. In Oregon the Secretary of State's office says bitcoin donations must be reported in the same way as regular cash contributions. But there are no other restrictions.
So what could a political campaign buy with its bitcoins? You can book a hotel room or buy office furniture online. A handful of bars and restaurants also accept them. But Zuckerman says there's always the option of simply converting them into U.S. dollars.
That's what the Libertarian Party of Washington's been doing. Chair Michael Pickens says the group's been accepting bitcoins for about a year.
Pickens: "We are a promoter of competing currencies. That is something we advocate for. So I think it was more symbolic than anything else."
In fact, Pickens says the Washington state Libertarians have received just two donations of bitcoins in the past year.
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