Wisconsin politician Mark Clear drops Bitcoin donations


By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — Mark Clear is believed to be the first Wisconsin politician to accept Bitcoin as a campaign contribution.

If that’s true, Clear is now the first to stop accepting Bitcoin contributions.

Clear, a Madison alderman running for state representative, recently returned about $100 worth of Bitcoin to a donor after learning the Government Accountability Board had dismissed Bitcoin at its March meeting as “something we shouldn’t waste our time on.”

“The Board did not believe it needed to set a policy on Bitcoin because Bitcoin is not one of the forms of negotiable financial instruments authorized by state law for campaign contributions,” said Reid Magney, a spokesman for the board.

Staff recommended the Accountability Board in Wisconsin wait to develop its own Bitcoin policy until the Federal Election Commission adopts one. Several members of the board, made up of retired judges, wondered why they should bother.

The board could change its mind, especially if the Federal Election Commission allows Bitcoin donations to federal candidates. But it’s not likely to happen this election cycle.

Clear thinks the board is missing the point on Bitcoin and campaign finance. He considers them an in-kind contribution and, as such, legal.

Mark Clear, a candidate for state representative, accepted and returned the first bitcoin campaign contribution in Wisconsin history.

“I think the GAB needs to focus on the important parts of public disclosure,” Clear told Wisconsin Reporter Thursday. “What the public wants to know is who the person is making a contribution and how much (rather than the method of transaction).”

Bitcoin is a digital currency, currently unregulated by any government, that can be exchanged for more common, regulated currency. It is growing in acceptance by retail and online stores for payment.

The Internal Revenue Service recently said it would treat Bitcoins as property, not currency, for federal tax purposes.

Bitcoin transactions are recorded in what’s called a blockchain, where candidates and ethics regulators can track from where donations are coming.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is currently running for governor, accepts Bitcoin contributions for his campaign, according to his campaign website.

“Because state and federal law do not currently recognize bitcoin as currency, your contribution to Texans for Greg Abbott of bitcoin will be listed as an in-kind contribution to the campaign,” the website reads.

“Something as innovative as Bitcoin is an opportunity for us to continue this focus, especially given the fact that it embodies free market principles, which Texans are very fond of,” Abbott’s campaign spokesman told Politico.

Bitcoin is “not worth spending any time on” because people who are interested in it use it “to avoid regulation and taxation,” retired Judge Elsa Lamelas said at the March GAB meeting.

The same could be said for the dollar, the currency of choice for sex, drugs, weapon trades, bribes, off-the-books incomes and other illegal activity.

Jonathan Becker, an administrator in the GAB ethics division, said Bitcoin could be considered an in-kind donation like a gift card, Lamelas said Bitcoins change value, gift cards do not.

Stocks, which also fluctuate in value, are prohibited campaign contributions.

But unlike stock, Bitcoins represent only their current value, not an ownership stake in any company. And even U.S. dollars and, therefore, gift cards also fluctuate in value every day.

At some point that was worth some board or commission wasting time on.

Contact Ryan Ekvall at 608-257-1382, rekvall@watchdog.org or follow him on Twitter @Nockian.