Anti-Bitcoin Ad Attacks Congressional Candidate for Accepting Cryptocurrency Donations

Brian Forde was a senior advisor to the Obama administration who wrote the White House memo on cryptocurrency. Now his congressional campaign is under attack by his opponent for accepting Bitcoin donations.

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May 22 2018, 1:00pm

Screenshot of the attack ad against Brian Forde's Bitcoin affiliations

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies occupy a contentious place in American politics. Law enforcement agencies often see them as a criminal tool used to buy drugs, guns or other illegal items; financial regulatory bodies can’t decide whether to classify them a security; and a handful of states have proposed legislation that would allow their constituents to pay their taxes with them.

But this regulatory uncertainty hasn’t stopped Brian Forde, a California Democrat running for the US House of Representatives, from accepting campaign donations in Bitcoin in the lead up to the 2018 elections. Forde’s embrace of Bitcoin makes sense: He was a senior advisor to the Obama administration on cryptocurrencies and other digital technologies, and headed up MIT’s Digital Currency Initiative.

In 2014, the Federal Election Commission ruled it was okay for political action committees to accept donations in Bitcoin. Nevertheless, Dave Min, another Democrat vying for the same congressional seat, picked up on Forde’s crypto affiliations and used them as the basis for an attack ad. It is likely the first political ad in the US to mention Bitcoin.

In a copy of the ad provided to Motherboard by the Forde campaign, Forde’s face is superimposed over some footage of a stereotypical hacker typing on screens of streaming green code. A woman’s voice cites “Brian Forde’s big donors” as “Bitcoin speculators that oppose cracking down on drug deals and human trafficking.”

Min, a professor of law at the University of California, Irvine, did not respond to my request for comment. Forde, who has raised over $100,000 in campaign donations in Bitcoin, called the ad “reckless.”

“These comments about my supporters are sensationalist, wildly inaccurate, and in line with my opponent’s lack of understanding of the technology,” Forde told me in an email. “If they were speculating they wouldn’t have donated to my campaign in Bitcoin. They didn’t HODL, they donated to my campaign in Bitcoin because they believe in the technology.”

Read More: Why Doesn’t the US Government HODL Seized Bitcoins?

Forde said the reason his campaign accepted Bitcoin in the first place is because Nicholas Negroponte, a co-founder of the MIT Media Lab who Forde described as “one of the world’s most brilliant technical visionaries,” would only donate to the campaign if it accepted cryptocurrency.

Forde said misunderstandings about new technology is part of the reason why he’s running for office. He’s part of a growing contingent of scientists and technologists running for office to combat a significant anti-science sentiment in Washington under the Trump administration.

“While his ad disparages a technology he clearly doesn’t understand, the United Nations uses it to address human trafficking,” Forde said, citing a UN-led project in Moldova to use blockchain-based IDs to stop sex-trafficking. “We need more rational scientists and technologists in congress armed with evidence-based policymaking, not politicians making irrational decisions based on their emotions."