For the crypto world, bipartisan infrastructure package brings a 'political awakening'
By Rachel Janfaza, CNN
(CNN) -- Members of the cryptocurrency world are donating to crypto-focused organizations, hiring lobbyists and ramping up advocacy efforts in a push to get lawmakers on board with the industry, as pressure builds on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to address a cryptocurrency provision of the bipartisan infrastructure bill before a vote in the House.
"The crypto world has been made politically aware," said Anne Fauvre-Willis, chief operating officer at Oasis Labs, a blockchain privacy company. "For many there has been a personal political awakening."
The push follows a back-and-forth debate between Senators and dueling amendment proposals earlier this month that would have modified language included in the bipartisan infrastructure package meant to regulate cryptocurrency -- which uses blockchain technology for online transactions.
Despite the debate, a cryptocurrency language compromise amendment failed before final passage of the legislation in the chamber Tuesday, leaving crypto advocates concerned for the fate of an industry they are personally invested in and care deeply about.
As it stands, the provision would impose more federal regulation on cryptocurrencies and could dramatically expand the number of cryptocurrency users who would have to report filings to the Internal Revenue Service -- something that has struck a nerve with supporters of an industry designed to take out intermediaries and grant autonomy to its users via a decentralized system.
While a small number of advocates with cryptocurrency think tanks and associations have been making noise in DC for years, leaders in the crypto space told CNN that the recent debate over cryptocurrency regulations on Capitol Hill caught the attention of thousands of people who were previously disengaged from politics.
"There is a whole new swath of people paying attention to what's happening in Washington," said Ryan Selkis, founder of Messari, a cryptocurrency research and analysis firm.
Like Fauvre-Willis, Selkis told CNN the conversation around cryptocurrency in DC prompted an "awakening for many people."
The birth of the 'crypto voter'
Since early August, the phrase "I am now a single issue voter," has gone viral among crypto circles on Twitter, flooding the feeds of both high profile crypto leaders and ordinary traders who have racked up thousands of likes and hundreds of retweets for sharing that they will only vote for candidates supportive of the booming industry.
Selkis' own Twitter bio reads, "single issue voter: anti-crypto politicians should be afraid."
But according to members of the crypto community, while "crypto voters" may prioritize protecting the booming industry, they don't yet belong to one party or the other.
For her part, Evan Greer, who for the past decade has organized large-scale online protests in support of net neutrality and in opposition of internet censorship and government surveillance, said that in her experience, "Tech issues often fall outside of the historical Democrat vs. Republican partisan divide."
"These are fundamental issues, about how people orient toward institutions of power whether that's corporate power or government power," Greer -- director of Fight for the Future, a digital rights nonprofit -- told CNN.
"Among young folks especially, there is skyrocketing skepticism about arbitrary forms of power, either from the government or corporations, and we see that play out in the crypto community," Greer said. "The traditional left-right party politics that have dominated US politics for young people are really starting to erode."
Push to protect crypto industry goes beyond social media
Earlier this month, 25 new companies have expressed interest in joining the Blockchain Association -- a trade association with 46 existing member companies that works to educate lawmakers on and improve public policy around cryptocurrency.
"This is a pivotal moment for the crypto ecosystem because it was the first time that so many people have in a unified way reached out to the Senate [and lawmakers] and let them know this is a super vibrant, super creative group," said Kristin Smith, executive director of the Blockchain Association.
In recent months, the Blockchain Association beefed up its lobbying operation, Smith, who has been with the association for three years, told CNN. The group has an internal Republican lobbyist, internal Democratic lobbyist and three lobbying firms on retainer.
Smith, who is also registered to lobby, told CNN that member companies are now hiring lobbyists or lobbying firms too.
Asked why those unfamiliar with the crypto space may care about the recent cryptocurrency advocacy push, Smith said it comes down to a belief in the benefit of having autonomy over one's financial transactions.
"Even if you don't understand the tech [behind crypto], the ability to use your money and data in the way that you want to use it and to have a digital life where you're not at the mercy of intermediaries is something that should be attractive to a lot of people," she said.
Coin Center, a think tank started in 2014 that focuses on cryptocurrency policy, has seen "a surge" in donations both from individuals and corporations, Neeraj Agrawal, the organization's director of communications, told CNN.
Since August 1, the organization has received gifts from more than 350 individual donors, he said.
And Fight for the Future -- which directed more than 40,000 people to their online portal to call to Senators earlier this month, urging the lawmakers to scale back the proposed cryptocurrency regulations -- has since received more than $20,000 in donations to their organization, mostly given in cryptocurrency.
Creators and users of cryptocurrency, "have now woken up to the fact that government can kick down your door and shut down your cool project," Greer said.
"Any lawmaker that wants to get support from young voters needs to show they aren't utterly ignorant about these issues," Greer said.
Fight for the Future will use the donations to support the push to protect crypto in the infrastructure bill, which is moving toward the House of Representatives, Greer said.
The organization will launch a "full court press" operation, Greer said, requesting meetings with lawmakers, driving more phone calls and emails to legislators and creating educational videos and explainers.
"All of that costs money," she said.
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