Lobbyists to Go to Bat for Bitcoin on Capitol Hill

NEWS ANALYSIS: Nothing gets done in Washington without money and lobbyists, and now Bitcoin has both.

In yet another step toward making Bitcoin a fully accepted part of the monetary landscape, the Bitcoin Foundation announced on July 9 that it has hired a lobbying firm.

Representing the Bitcoin Foundation on Capitol Hill will be the Thorsen French Advocacy. The Bitcoin Foundation is the group that helps lead the development and organization of the Bitcoin protocol and cryptocurrency.

In some respects, the fact that the Bitcoin Foundation has felt the need to hire a lobbying group is surprising, and in others it is quite obvious.

"There is an attractively simple argument that public policy is completely superfluous to Bitcoin," Jim Harper, global policy counsel at the Bitcoin Foundation, wrote. "As an Internet protocol whose users can mask their behavior various ways, Bitcoin doesn't need governments' permission."

Harper goes on to note that for a small group of technically sophisticated Bitcoin users, government approval is not a concern, but it's for all the other people in the world to which the question of legality and government approval does matter.

The U.S. government itself is aware of Bitcoin already and in some regards already treats it as a legitimate economic activity. Back in March, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) provided official guidance on how Bitcoin-related activities should be treated for taxation purposes. A simple truth about the U.S government is that you can't evade taxes. The taxman always gets his due, and Bitcoin is no exception.

Another simple truth is that lobbying is a core component of the modern political process in Washington, D.C. Lobbyists "press the flesh" and help raise issues and promote causes to members of Congress.

"Public policy is a marketplace where outputs are seldom measured, quality is hard to judge, and outcomes have manifold causes," the Bitcoin Foundation's Harper cynically notes.

That said, Harper also rightful admits and acknowledges that lobbying public policy is something that requires attention. It's a simple truth after all—how can those without voices be heard?

What is also particularly interesting about the Bitcoin lobby is the money aspect.

Bitcoin after all literally mines its own currency. If lobbyists and political influence are bought with money and Bitcoin has a lot of money, does that mean Bitcoin will prevail?

The truth, of course, is that there are vastly more sums of money in other forms of commerce and currency than exist in Bitcoin today. If there are interests aligned against Bitcoin that seek to lever public policy against Bitcoin, there is no reason to believe they would have any fewer resources than what the Bitcoin Foundation can bring to bear.

From a public policy perspective, likely the biggest challenge facing Bitcoin is the notion that it is a refuge for crime, illicit activities and money laundering. Of course, those same activities can and do happen with regular U.S. currency too.

One thing is for certain about Bitcoin at this point: It's not likely just a "flash in the pan" phenomenon. This is an effort with both real and virtual money behind it, and perhaps one day political clout too.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.