At today’s public meeting, the Federal Election Commission deadlocked on two advisory opinion requests and approved a third. Both deadlocked votes split along party lines between the Democratic- and Republican-selected Commissioners. The Commission first considered a request from the Conservative Action Fund PAC that was held over from last week’s meeting. The request asked whether and how political committees may accept contributions in the form of Bitcoins. While the Commissioners all agreed that committees may accept Bitcoin contributions, they were divided on whether committees could spend Bitcoins, and what steps must be taken to receive and report them. The three Republican-selected Commissioners all voted for a draft opinion that would have allowed political committees not only to accept Bitcoins as in-kind contributions, but also to use them to purchase goods and services and make contributions to other committees. However, the three Democratic-selected Commissioners argued that the Commission should take more time to understand the technology of Bitcoin and issue guidance through a policy statement or interpretive rule. All six Commissioners seemed open to considering such a rule in the future.
By deadlocking, the FEC effectively stayed out of a cross-agency debate over the nature of Bitcoins and how to regulate them. As noted previously on this blog, an array of other federal agencies have begun to weigh whether they have jurisdiction over Bitcoins. A statement from the FEC on the nature of Bitcoins might well have affected these other agency developments. As it happened, however, some of the Commissioners openly acknowledged their struggle to understand the emerging technology. (Perkins Coie filed comments on behalf of the Bitcoin Foundation.) It seems likely that the agency will face Bitcoin again, in some fashion.
Next, the Commission voted to allow the non-profit organization politicalrefund.org to use FEC data to contact people who had made political contributions and inform them of their right to seek a refund. All of the Commissioners voted to approve the organization’s use of FEC data except for Commission Chair Weintraub, who said that an affirmative vote would contradict the FEC’s ruling inAO 2003-24 (National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids).