Political newbie Brian Forde has dazzled marquee crypto investors, who hope he can be the Washington friend they desperately need.
Over the past year, Bitcoin’s meteoric rise—and recent plunge—has captivated the financial world. The political world? Not so much. Washington remains stubbornly ignorant of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. But that may soon change. A roster of prominent crypto investors has piled in to support a first-time Democratic congressional candidate, Brian Forde, who’s looking to unseat the incumbent Republican in a pivotal Orange County, Calif., race that could determine which party controls the House of Representatives after November’s midterm elections.
Forde’s appeal isn’t hard to discern. Before running for Congress, the 37-year-old coder was director of digital currency at MIT’s Media Lab and a technology adviser in Barack Obama’s White House. Forde says his tech and business background is a good match for California’s 45th District, an historically GOP area currently represented by Republican Mimi Walters, but one whose well-educated, minority-rich populace also chose Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 5 percentage points. “Tech is one of the fastest-growing economic sectors in the district,” Forde says. “In addition to our fair share of unicorns—from Broadcomto Blizzard Entertainment—Amazon, Google, and others have offices here, too.”
It’s Forde’s expertise in cryptocurrency that’s attracted marquee Bitcoin evangelists such as Pete Briger of Fortress Investment Group; Brad Burnham of Union Square Ventures; the investor Mike Novogratz; and famed Facebook litigants Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who founded the Gemini cryptocurrency exchange. “Brian understands the power of emerging technologies and how to foster and shape them in a way that has a positive impact on people and organizations,” says Tyler Winklevoss.
Forde’s Bitcoin bona fides are so strong that many of those donors have contributed actual Bitcoins to his campaign rather than write a check, the old-fashioned way. Federal Election Commission records indicate that although his campaign is barely six months old, Forde has already amassed more Bitcoin contributions than all previous congressional candidates combined.
“He’s walking the walk and speaking our language,” says Stan Miroshnik, chief executive officer of the Element Group, an investment bank focused on digital-token capital markets, who last summer gave Forde 0.656 Bitcoin (then the equivalent of the FEC’s $2,700 limit on primary campaign contributions). “If you’re willing to go through the pain of actually taking cryptocurrency, it’s a great endorsement of the philosophy we’re all pushing.” These contributions flow to a Bitcoin wallet and are converted by Forde’s campaign to U.S. dollars through a Bitcoin exchange. Powered by cryptocash, Forde’s fourth-quarter fundraising total beat the entire field of candidates—including Walters, a sitting congresswoman.
Yet there are reasons beyond a shared enthusiasm for blockchain decentralization that so many Bitcoin investors would like to send Forde to Congress. As cryptocurrency has exploded from a fringe passion into an $800 billion capital market, regulators are taking notice. “By and large, the government has been very quiet on cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin,” says Justin Slaughter, a former top aide at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission who now consults on fintech regulation as a partner at Mercury Strategies LLC. “Partly because it’s so new, partly because a lot of people don’t understand it yet.”
The high-profile collapse of several cryptocurrency exchanges, fears of fraud and price manipulation, the susceptibility of exchanges to hacking, and concerns of an asset bubble have all led to the expectation of more government oversight. In recent days, Bank of America, Citigroup, and JPMorgan Chase announced they would bar customers from using credit cards to buy cryptocurrencies, and Facebook said it would ban ads promoting them, including Bitcoin. “It would benefit the crypto sector to have one of our own in Congress,” says Fred Wilson, a Forde donor and partner at Union Square Ventures.