Bitcoin donations enter Canadian politics

Two federal parties accepting cryptocurrency contributions
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As a candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada nomination in Burnaby North–Seymour, Terry Beech is always happy to accept donations to his campaign.

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The 33-year-old entrepreneur and former Nanaimo city councillor told the Georgia Straight he would even welcome a contribution in Bitcoin, if someone wanted to make one.

“As far as I know, right now, there’s nothing that would prevent me from taking a Bitcoin donation,” Beech said during an interview in the VentureLabs offices at Discovery Parks Vancouver. “It would be like somebody donating a bar of gold and me converting it into cash and registering their name with it.”

Of the 17 federal political parties in Canada, only two are soliciting Bitcoin donations on their official websites. Both the Libertarian Party of Canada and the Pirate Party of Canada began accepting the decentralized digital currency—which isn’t issued by a government and doesn’t require banks to operate—last year.

Libertarian Leader Tim Moen told the Straight his party likes Bitcoin because it believes in keeping money in the “hands of the people”. He asserted that, compared to fiat currencies such as the Canadian dollar, it’s difficult for governments to confiscate, tax, and “fund wars” with the cryptocurrency due to its pseu­donymous and peer-to-peer nature.

“Bitcoin is right up our party’s alley,” Moen said by phone from Fort McMurray. “We’re happy to promote currency that empowers people, and one of the ways we can do that, obviously, is accept donations through it and maybe draw some attention to the currency that way.”

The Bitcoin address published on the Libertarian party’s website has received 11 payments totalling 0.16617101 bitcoins (BTC), according to the block chain that records all transactions in the cryptocurrency. (As of July 7, one bitcoin was worth about US$620.) Moen noted anonymous political donations of $20 or less are permitted by federal law, but parties are required to record the donor’s identity in the case of larger contributions.

“Of course, Bitcoin being an anonymous donation, typically we get only $20 donations,” Moen said. “Now, at one point we did receive a donation that was close to one bitcoin, and we couldn’t confirm the identity of the person, so we just had to return to sender.”

Elections Canada spokesperson Diane Benson declined to be interviewed for this story. According to Section 403.35 (2) of the Canada Elections Act, which deals with financial reporting, financial agents appointed by parties and candidates are responsible for reporting the names and addresses of donors to the chief electoral officer.

The Bitcoin address on the Pirate Party of Canada’s website has received three payments totalling 0.12 BTC. Chad Kohalyk, a member of the Pirate political council, told the Straight the party is taking a cautious approach to Bitcoin donations because Elections Canada has sent it “mixed messages” on the legality of these contributions. He called on the agency to “hurry up” and clarify the rules for donations in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Dogecoin in time for the 2015 federal election.

“If they’re the ones that are supposed to be the protectors of the money flow, then maybe they should be the ones to be setting up a way for people to submit Bitcoin donations to them and they do the identification verification and then pass them on to the parties,” Kohalyk said by phone from Kelowna. “How that oversight would happen would be an interesting question, but since we do have a public block chain, I think that it could be done.”

Bitcoin ATMs at the Crypto Block Party in Vancouver on June 15.
Stephen Hui

None of the 22 provincial political parties in British Columbia are using their official websites to solicit Bitcoin donations.

Nola Western, deputy chief electoral officer for funding and disclosure at Elections B.C., told the Straight the agency has no formal policy on Bitcoin donations. However, she noted the province’s Election Act allows for political contributions of goods and services, though these aren’t tax-receiptable.

“I would expect Bitcoin to be treated as any other good, because, of course, they’re not legal tender,” Western said by phone from Victoria. “So they’d be just like a contribution in kind. As long as a fair market value can be established for the bitcoins, which I know it can, then political contributions would certainly be acceptable.”

According to Western, parties and candidates must record the names and addresses of Bitcoin donors. The sole exception is donations worth less than $50 that are made in response to a “pass the hat” solicitation for funds at a meeting or fundraiser held on behalf of a party or candidate. Western maintained that any other anonymous donations must be forwarded to Elections B.C.

“There probably have already been Bitcoin contributions,” Western said. “They’re just being treated like any other contribution of goods or services.”

Beech, who’s an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia, doesn’t see Bitcoin becoming a “real big player” in Canadian politics unless the cryptocurrency is “massively adopted” by the public.

“I don’t think Bitcoin’s going to find its way onto any election literature or anything like that in the next campaign,” Beech said.

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