Political donations via cryptocurrency are on the rise: NPR

NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe speaks with Washington Post reporter Tory Newmyer about cryptocurrency advocates donating to midterm election candidates.



AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Cryptocurrency is becoming more and more mainstream. A recent survey by business research firm Morning Consult found that 20% of American adults own cryptocurrency. Along with this growth came another – an increase in donations from cryptocurrency executives and investors to political candidates supportive of the new industry. Tory Newmyer took a closer look at these donations for this year’s midterm elections for The Washington Post and joins us now. Welcome.

TORY NEWMYER: Thanks for having me.

RASCOE: So it’s not necessarily a new trend. People with cryptocurrency ties have donated to candidates in the past. But is there anything different about this year and the midterms to come?

NEWMYER: The difference, I think, is the scale of the donations and the fact that they’re organized. So the industry has really grown at a super-fast pace over the past few years. I mean, at this point in the last election cycle, the industry was one eighth of what it is now. The industry therefore plans to cause a stir in the midterm elections. They organize super PACs. They organize fundraisers for key members of Congress. They find new candidates that emerge and support them early. And they will spend tens of millions of dollars to present themselves not only as an economic force, but also as a political force.

RASCOE: So who are these pro-crypto candidates that are being targeted by these super PACs?

NEWMYER: It’s a range of candidates across the ideological spectrum. So there’s a candidate named Blake Masters running for the Senate in Utah – far right. You know, there’s a kind of libertarian ethos around bitcoin, and for that reason it appeals to – tends to appeal to people on the right. There are other candidates from the progressive left, like Aarika Rhodes. And she says there’s a progressive case to be made for the technology because it has the potential to disrupt traditional finance and traditional technology and give consumers faster and cheaper access to these services. The industry is therefore very opportunistic. They fear it will become a partisan issue, so they spread their money down both sides of the aisle.

RASCOE: Are there any lawmakers who oppose or criticize the crypto industry?

NEWMYER: So it’s been an interesting dynamic on the Hill, where Republicans, on the whole, have been very tolerant and enthusiastic about crypto. Democrats are much more divided. You often hear this from prominent progressives like Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown, who say this is all a fashionable house of cards that only makes the already wealthy richer. And all the while, Bitcoin mining, which is still the most popular crypto in the world, is gobbling up, you know, mind-boggling amounts of electricity and contributing to climate change. And the only thing the technology has really accomplished so far is enabling illicit finance. And so they don’t see any real redeeming value here and have taken a very aggressive and judgmental stance towards the whole company.

RASCOE: And, of course, the reason people pay attention to when industries start giving money is because they’re not giving money just out of the goodness of their hearts. For example, what are they trying to achieve by supporting these candidates?

NEWMYER: I mean, they recognize that the people they support, if they get to Washington, are going to write rules for the industry. And it’s a really remarkable time for this industry because it really came out of nowhere to become this sort of major market force. And so the industry is very keen to be at the table while these rules are being drafted to make sure that they are designed in a way that is favorable to them.

RASCOE: Tory Newmyer is a business reporter at the Washington Post. Thank you very much for sharing your report.

NEWMYER: Thank you for inviting me.

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