Meet bitcoin's Capitol Hill champion, a former founder and angel with real startup chops

By Michael Carney , written on June 23, 2014

From The News Desk

Bitcoin appears to have a champion on Capitol Hill. Finally.

House Representative Jared Polis of Colorado’s Second District has become the crypto-currency community’s greatest advocate in Washington, arguing staunchly against earlier proposed bans and policies restricting growth of the digital currencies at large.

Representative Polis’ advocacy may come as a surprise to those who don’t know his connections to the technology and startup worlds. But it shouldn’t. Before pursuing his political aspirations, the Princeton graduate co-found the TechStars accelerator program in Boulder (which later expanded to eight global cities) in partnership with Brad Feld, David Cohen, and David Brown.

Polis, who was mentored by Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson, founded an Internet access and web hosting business called American Information Systems while in college and later founded ProFlowers, which sold (as Provide Commerce Inc.) to Liberty Media for $477 million in cash in 2006.

Put simply, this guy has tech and entrepreneurial chops.

Polis first gained fame within the bitcoin community last March for his satirical letter seeking the ban of US dollar bills, sent to fellow regulators in response a letter from Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) calling for the banning of Bitcoin. Polis rightly calls the paper notes unregulated, saying that they have “allowed users to participate in illicit activity, while also being highly subject to forgery, theft, and loss.”

He continues, pointing out the very real inflation that has plagued the dollar and other global fiat currencies, their use in anonymous and irreversible transactions including money laundering and drug trafficking (a bitcoin characteristic frequently cited by concerned regulators), and the environmental impacts of paper money production.

The clear use of dollar bills for transacting in illegal goods, anonymous transactions, tax fraud, and services or speculative gambling make me wary of their use. Before the United States gets too far behind the curve on this important topic, I urge the regulators to work together, act quickly, and prohibit this dangerous currency from harming hard-working Americans.
You can see why Polis is popular in bitcoin circles.

In a recent interview with Coindesk, Polis seems eager to embrace his status as a digital currency champion. With his seat coming up for reelection in November, it could prove a wise move. He tells Coindesk:

If there was an agency that reacted in an irrationally negative way to digital currencies, I would be happy to rally support [in Congress] to restrict their funding... The constituency I represent in boulder is very forward-thinking.
With Colorado leading the way nationally in marijuana legalization, and Boulder the liberal heart of the state, Polis surely speaks the truth. The question is, how large is the local bitcoin community and how much can the larger global bitcoin community do to support Polis’ re-election?

In May, he was the first major politician to accept bitcoin campaign donations, but while the headlines were big, the cash has been small. Polis raised $1,500 in his first week, but that figure has climbed to only $2,000 in the month since.

Fellow members of Congress have been growing increasingly curious about bitcoin, Polis says, giving him the opportunity to explain the merits of digital currency. It’s this kind of trusted voice that the bitcoin community so desperately needs. Polis is joined in a small but growing camp of pro-bitcoin regulators and financial leaders that includes New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) superintendent Benjamin Lawsky and Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen.

Polis cautions that the other shoe has yet to drop in terms of regulatory opposition to digital currencies, telling Coindesk:

We haven’t seen the full backlash yet, in part, because bitcoins aren’t fully mainstream. But, as they become more and more mainstream, inevitably, they are in some ways usurping the prerogative of nation states, and I fully expect to see more pushback from countries including [the US].
At least when that backlash arrives, the bitcoin community will have one vocal supporter with a seat at the table.

[illustration by Aleks Sennwald for Pando]