Tiffany Muller and Lisa Donner: Cryptocurrency is One of The Most Overlooked Threats Against our Democracy

By Tiffany Muller and Lisa Donner

Silicon Valley’s penchant for using its money to distort politics has vexed American democracy for the better part of a decade. Now a new tech titan, the cryptocurrency industry, is running a similar playbook – but it is moving much faster. 

Last month, a bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives passed dangerous legislation that ticks box after box on the cryptocurrency industry’s wish list. It’s critical we examine how they’ve managed to get to this point so quickly and what they’re willing to do to buy access, gain power, and ultimately shape policy to reward a business model that puts consumers, investors, and financial stability at risk.

Last election cycle, we were deluged with fawning headlines about crypto fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried, who, prior to his fall from grace, doled out over $100 million to Washington’s power players to buy access and influence. The goal was to drive crypto-friendly policies that would prevent accountability for the industry and help him and his friends amass greater wealth. 

Since then, he has been sent to jail, but crypto money continues to pose a grave threat to accountable government. 

Tech and finance titans in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street are building an ever-larger war chest with the same goal Bankman-Fried had: to create a Congress that turns a blind eye to their shady practices – including rampant money laundering, vanishing investor money, and weaponized dark money – that do harm to the American public and our democracy.   

It’s no surprise these billionaires are working to keep their businesses from rules that protect consumers, investors, and financial stability for everyone. The crypto industry’s business models are often predatory and exploitative and have ripped people off causing widespread harm to Americans, time and time again. Just last week, authorities forced one crypto firm to cough up $4.5 billion in ill-gotten gains.

Though the industry is new compared to other special interests, they’ve learned the money-in-politics game with frightening speed. With a massive stockpile of funds, coming from just a small handful of extremely wealthy people, they have broadcast that they’re ready to jump into key Senate races at a giant scale to bankroll candidates who support their interests and the legislation they are pushing. The implicit threat is that the industry will turn its war chest against its opponents. 

And they have more than enough money to swing elections. Three crypto super PACs have so far raised over $160 million for the 2024 cycle. 

Already, we’re seeing these super PACs targeting races that will decide the balance of power in Congress. They’ve announced that they will spend significant money in the Montana, Ohio, Michigan, and Maryland Senate races—crucial states that will decide who controls Congress. 

Specifically, these super PACs have threatened to work against candidates such as Senators Sherrod Brown and Jon Tester, who have criticized predatory and unlawful behavior by the crypto industry, while offering support to those candidates that embrace them.

Another example: in March, David McCormick, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania who is challenging incumbent Democrat Bob Casey, published a love letter to the crypto industry, vowing to unabashedly support them if elected. Not so coincidentally, the president and lobbyists of Coinbase, a big crypto exchange, contributed to the super PAC supporting McCormick’s campaign.

So, what can we do? First, voters, candidates, and parties need to stop buying the hype and pull back the curtain on the crypto industry’s false rhetoric. The crypto moguls financing crypto’s political spending aren’t using this money to advance freedom or democracy; they are seeking to buy policy outcomes that will sustain and grow their own wealth and power. It is a naked and outrageous example of such pay-to-play politics. 

If they win, we’ll lose. We’ll see lax rules for crypto and more crypto scams, more collapsing crypto firms, and more economic instability––all of which will harm communities, consumers, and investors. Instead, policymakers should reject the crypto industry’s efforts to write their own rules at our expense, and voters should see through the industry’s PR as just another scam.  

Second, crypto is just one more example of how wealthy special interests distort and exert huge influence over our elections. It’s imperative that we confront the underlying issues in our campaign finance system. To that end, we must elect leaders this November who are committed to overturning the Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates to unlimited electoral money and passing legislation that increases transparency and accountability in our elections.

With these champions in office, we can pass the Freedom to Vote Act and other legislation that will help to ensure our government is safeguarded from dark money’s corrosive influence. 

Cryptocurrency has come of age politically and has done so significantly faster than other industries. We cannot ignore the new threat that cryptocurrency firms pose, and the pushback against their effort to buy our elections must start now. Taking a stand against the undue influence of crypto special interests is a crucial part of safeguarding the integrity of our elections and securing a government that truly serves the interests of the people, not those who write the biggest checks.

Tiffany Muller is the president of End Citizens United / Let America Vote, the leading anti-corruption and voting rights organization with more than four million members nationwide.

Lisa Donner is executive director of Americans for Financial Reform, a nonpartisan coalition of more than 200 civil rights, consumer, labor, business, investor, faith-based, and civic and community groups that works to lay the foundation for a strong, stable, and ethical financial system. 

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