That could mean some flexibility. Since the FEC handed down its opinion, the value of one bitcoin has fluctuated wildly, from $668.79 to a low of $177.28, and it currently sits around $360, according to a tracker maintained by CoinDesk.
Despite the limits, bitcoin advocates see a silver lining. The FEC didn’t ban the currency entirely, and they’re hoping that offers them an avenue to expand the currency’s use.
“It’s not so much the commission has said there’s an affirmative problem with receiving bitcoin greater than $100,” said Brian Svoboda, a campaign-finance lawyer and partner at Perkins Coie. “It’s simply that they have not yet given the express legal authority that would send a clear signal that you could. I think that’s one of the things the commission ought to revisit and look at.”
Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado was one of the most prominent politicians to accept bitcoins, but he brought in just under $2,000 in the crypto-currency for both his 2014 reelection and early 2016 fundraising, according to his office. As a point of comparison, his total 2014 fundraising haul was about $1.2 million, showing that the currency may still have a long way to go. Paul’s campaign declined to release specific bitcoin fundraising numbers, but it is a very small amount, according to Steve Grubbs, the manager of Paul’s campaign store.
“This is the cycle where bitcoin is introduced to the contribution world,” said Grubbs. “Next cycle or the following cycle, it will likely become a more significant player in campaign fundraising. … Digital currencies are coming, and they’re going to be a big deal in the future of the United States. They’re not here yet, but when they arrive, campaigns will be significantly funded through digital currency.”
The other option for a bitcoin donation
The other alternative for donors at this point is to use a bitcoin payment processor. Payment processors—the most popular of which is a service called BitPay—allow campaigns (and businesses) to accept bitcoins and have them automatically converted into dollars, without them ever receiving the coins or having a bitcoin wallet.
“The situation with BitPay is a little different. You’re not actually, as a candidate, going to receive bitcoin,” said Van Valkenburgh. “Somebody could ‘pay’ their donation in bitcoins to BitPay, who changes them effectively to dollars and then the campaign gets dollars in their donation account that’s provided to them by BitPay. In a certain regard, it is rather like taking any credit-card donation at that point.”
But there again, there’s some ambiguity over what is and isn’t in keeping with the FEC’s policies—or even whether the $100 limit applies.
Van Valkenburgh says that as long as the payment processor has a “know your customer” protocol for donors—the idea that BitPay and the campaign would collect identifying information like name and address from the donor—it looks much more like a normal donation.