In June 2018 the House Ethics Committee passed new rules requiring members to disclose their ownership of crypto asset holdings worth more than $1,000 in annual reports, giving them the same treatment as any other asset.
While the financial filings for Representatives, Senators, and Executive Branch Officials are all available online, actually combing through the assets reported takes a fair amount of manual labor. I haven’t the time to search through the disclosures of all 435 Congressional members, thus I have focused on the most likely bitcoin holders – those who have been publicly associated with the ecosystem.
Why does this matter? I believe that this is a signal that is far stronger than any words a politician could speak. Clearly we would expect that any Congress member who is publicly negative about Bitcoin would not own any – though it would be an interesting signal of hypocrisy if it turned out that they do hold some. On the other hand, can we truly believe that a given politician who portrays Bitcoin positively is speaking truthfully if they don’t believe in it enough to own any? Along the same vein, can we believe that they actually understand this technology if they haven’t used it? The constituents of any elected official should certainly prefer that someone who makes laws about a given subject should have a strong understanding of it.
The first Congressman to disclose ownership of Bitcoin actually did so before the disclosure rules were passed. Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia owned between $1,000 and $15,000 of Bitcoin according to his annual financial disclosure for the year of 2017. This is somewhat unsurprising given that his son was an early investor in Coinbase. Given that his total reported assets appear to be in the $2M to $6M range, that would mean his Bitcoin constituted 0.02% to 0.75% of his net worth at the time. However, Goodlatte’s time in Congress ended in 2019.
When it comes to currently seated members of Congress who reported owning Bitcoin, I’ve only found two thus far. Senator Cynthia Lummus reported owning $100K – $250K of bitcoin in 2020. Given that her total reported assets are valued between $3.6M and $16.4M that means Bitcoin makes up between 0.6% and 2.75% of her net worth.
Also, Senator Pat Toomey reported purchasing $1,001 – $15,000 of GBTC in June 2021. Based upon his 2020 annual filing, his total reported assets are valued between $2.2M and $8M, making the GBTC between 0.01% and 0.7% of his net worth.
Bitcoin Campaign Contributions
In 2014 the Federal Elections Commission ruled that Bitcoins are “money or anything of value” within the meaning of the Act and thus may be received and held by a campaign.
Every congressman running for re-election in 2020 received $50 worth of bitcoin donated to their campaign by the Chamber of Digital Commerce’s Political Action Committee. But who went to the trouble of accepting Bitcoin prior to this?
Jared Polis did not declare owning Bitcoin in 2018. I found this surprising because he was the first federal candidate to accept it back in 2014 after the FEC’s ruling. Though he does have an enormous portfolio valued at over $400M and could easily have indirect exposure through other investments / trusts.
Rand Paul reported no Bitcoin in 2020 despite being the first Presidential candidate to accept donations.
The Congressional Blockchain Caucus
The Congressional Blockchain Caucus was founded in the 114th Congress and is a bi-partisan group of Members of Congress and Staff who believe in the future of blockchain technology, and understand that Congress has a role to play in its development. As a Caucus, we have decided on a hands-off regulatory approach, believing that this technology will best evolve the same way the internet did; on its own.
You’d think this group would have a reasonably high amount of Bitcoin holders, right?
Tom Emmer sponsored the Blockchain Regulatory Certainty Act and is the co-sponsor of at least one other crypto bill. He reported owning none in 2020. He certainly seems to be pro-Bitcoin…
Darren Soto reported none in 2020. He authored 2 crypto bills in 2019 for which he is still championing – the “Virtual Currency Consumer Protection Act” and the “U.S. Virtual Currency Market and Regulatory Competitiveness Act.”
Eric Swalwell, as previously mentioned, reported none in 2020.
None of the other 25+ members of this Caucus have recently reported owning bitcoin either.
Financial Innovation Caucus
Senator Cynthia Lummus co-founded this caucus; as mentioned previously, she reported owning $100K – $250K of bitcoin in 2020. However, none of the 5 other members of this caucus can claim to have skin in the game.
Other Notable Congress Members
I found various media mentions of these politicians speaking about cryptocurrency or blockchain technology over the years, so I checked their disclosures.
Anna Eshoo reported no bitcoin in 2020.
Bill Foster reported no bitcoin in 2020.
Trey Hollingsworth reported no bitcoin in 2020.
Senator John Kennedy reported no bitcoin owned in 2020.
Thomas Massie has made strong pro-Bitcoin statements over the years. He seems to have some strong libertarian views. Yet he reported owning no bitcoin in 2020.
Catherine Cortez Masto, who has previously made positive statements about the space, reported owning none in 2020.
Patrick McHenry, the ranking member on the Financial Services Committee, who even hosts the Bitcoin whitepaper on his web site… reported owning none in 2020.
U.S. Representatives Doris Matsui and Brett Guthrie had introduced a bill aiming to establish a common definition of blockchain technology – the bill titled “Blockchain Promotion Act of 2018.” Neither Matsui nor Guthrie reported any bitcoin in 2020.
Senator Mark Warner, an early investor in cell phone technology, has said he believes that cryptocurrencies can hit $20 trillion in value, yet he reported no bitcoin ownership in 2020.
These results are disappointing for Bitcoin enthusiasts, to say the least. Are these politicians LARPing or did they simply forget that they’re required to report crypto assets? Federal ethics rules require transparency, yet this information is not as easily digestible as I believe it should be.
Due to the size of the data set that needs to be checked (each member’s disclosure can vary from two to hundreds of pages!) this project seems like a good candidate for crowdsourcing. If you’re interested in learning more and potentially contributing to this effort, check out the project I’ve started at bitcoinpoliticians.org.