SALEM — Oregon may soon allow people to use cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin to donate to political campaigns.
Cryptocurrency is privately issued and exists only digitally, but is surging into the mainstream as a medium of exchange. One Bitcoin is currently worth about $6,122.
Secretary of State Dennis Richardson claimed last week that the change would "expand participation" in state elections.
"Cryptocurrency is here to stay and Oregon needs to adapt to that reality by allowing this new form of donating," he said. "Allowing cryptocurrency to be a part of our elections process is a new and innovative way to expand participation in Oregon elections."
Edwin Bender, executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics, was similarly optimistic.
"We're just talking about exchanging value here and there is a level of trust built into all currency," he said. "So it's a cutting-edge idea that I think certainly merits being considered."
The secretary of state's office says the state rule will mirror an advisory opinion released by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in 2014 that says political committees can accept campaign contributions of cryptocurrency.
Under the proposed changes to state rules, cryptocurrency would be treated similarly to contributions of stock.
The contribution amount would correspond to the market value of the cryptocurrency the day it was received.
If a campaign committee liquidates cryptocurrency, and its value has increased after reporting the contribution, the difference would be reported as investment income.
If the value has decreased since the original contribution date, the committee has to report that as a "miscellaneous other disbursement" just as it would report a loss in investment value.
Ann Ravel, a FEC commissioner from 2013 to 2017, says she has doubts about the traceability of cryptocurrency.
"I don't think it meets the transparency laws," she said.
Every Bitcoin transaction is public — via a log of transactions known as the "block chain" — but transactors are not.
A Bitcoin user's identity, IP address or location can't be reliably traced, according to the 2014 advisory opinion from the FEC.
The FEC decided to treat Bitcoin like cash, advising that federal campaigns could accept contributions of up to $100 worth of the virtual currency.
In Oregon, though, there wouldn't be any limits on the amount of cryptocurrency a donor could give to a campaign, said Deb Royal, Richardson's chief of staff.
While Oregon's Constitution doesn't allow value limits on campaign contributions, the state does require public disclosure of details about a campaign donor when aggregate donations from one person meet or exceed $100 in the same calendar year.