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This Congressman Is Now Accepting Bitcoin Campaign Donations

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POLIS
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 02: Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., conducts a news conference with members of the House Democratic conference in the Capitol Visitor Center on immigration reform. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) | Tom Williams via Getty Images

By Dave Levinthal, Center for Public Integrity

The campaign coffer of Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., is steadily filling with invisible money.

As of Monday night, Polis had received $1,500 in Bitcoin that 39 donors together contributed to his campaign since the Federal Election Commission on Thursday allowed political candidates to accept them in limited amounts, campaign manager Lisa Kaufmann confirmed to the Center for Public Integrity.

His website homepage now shouts in bold red letters: "Now Accepting Bitcoins!"

Polis became the first federal official to accept Bitcoin after the FEC's less-than-crystal-clear decision, which, in part, permits candidates and political committees to accept up to $100 in Bitcoin from an individual per election. It did not rule one way or another on whether candidates and committees may accept the Bitcoin equivalent of the $2,600-per-election federal donation limit for individuals.

Polis' Bitcoin contributions could be a boon or bust for him. That's because the Bitcoin market is notoriously volatile.

Consider that in late 2011, a single bitcoin traded for about $2. By late 2013, its value exceeded $1,100. Today, a bitcoin goes for about $435.

Say, a month or year from now, the Bitcoin market crashes.

The value of Polis' Bitcoin contributions would plummet accordingly, leaving him with less spending power than if his Bitcoin contributions had been made in cash.

But if the Bitcoin market skyrockets, Polis' campaign stands to reap significant riches.

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While the FEC may only have blessed Bitcoin contributions of up to $100 per person, candidates such as Polis are allowed to let their accumulated Bitcoin appreciate in value. An initial $100 Bitcoin donation could suddenly be worth $1,000, or $10,000, within a matter of days or weeks.

As of March 31, Polis reported about $300,000 cash on hand as he seeks a fourth term in office in a Democratic-leaning district that includes Boulder and Ft. Collins. During the first three months of the year, he raised about $159,000.

Polis' bullish attitude toward Bitcoin is hardly surprising, given his success creating and selling Internet-based businesses during the 1990s and 2000s. He ranks among Congress' richest members, with the Center for Responsive Politics estimating that his wealth in 2012 potentially reached $330 million.

And in April, Polis became the first known member of Congress to purchase Bitcoin.

Bitcoin is hardly the only digital currency in circulation. Other, even more exotic formats have also popped into existence during the past several years.

But Polis has "no immediate plans to take other forms of digital currency being that Bitcoin is the only one the FEC has issued guidelines on," said Kaufmann, his campaign manager.

He will also adhere to the FEC-prescribed $100-per-contribution limit, she said.

Several other political candidates, including Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, declared prior to the FEC's guidance that they would accept political contributions in the form of Bitcoin.

Related story: What the FEC's Bitcoin ruling means

More stories in the Primary Source blog from the Center for Public Integrity

This story was originally published by The Center for Public Integrity, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.

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