Republican congressional candidate Owen Hill to accept campaign contributions in bitcoin

Republican congressional candidate Owen Hill is accepting campaign contributions in bitcoin — to encourage participation in his race by the widest possible audience, the Colorado Springs state senator said Wednesday.

Starting this week, donors to Hill, challenging U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn in a crowded GOP primary, can send money his way using a check, credit card or bitcoin, the virtual currency “mined” by computer users solving complex mathematical problems.

Hill told Colorado Politics he decided to take bitcoin after several people suggested it.

“It absolutely makes sense,” he said. “It’s more accessible to people now. When I started in politics several years ago, some people thought it was unusual candidates would accept credit card donations. It’s a great way to continue to point toward the future and provide access to more people.”

The value of the electronic currency has soared in recent months — from just over $1,000 a year ago to nearly $15,000 on Wednesday — although its wide price swings have sparked debates over whether to treat it more like an alternative currency or an exotic investment.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat and candidate for governor of Colorado, in 2014 became the first federal candidate to take bitcoin donations for his campaign, soon after the Federal Election Commission set rules governing donations using the digital currency — and reaped more than $1,000 worth in just the first few days. In the last election cycle, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, made headlines when his 2016 presidential campaign started taking bitcoin donations.

FEC rules require politicians to report the same information about bitcoin contributions as they do when the funds arrive in dollars. Under the guidelines, campaigns have 10 days after receiving bitcoin to convert it, potentially reaping a gain if the price rises or suffering a loss if it slumps. Campaigns aren’t allowed to purchase goods or services using the currency.

Hill is one of three Republicans running against Lamborn — along with El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn and former Texas state judge Bill Rhea — and he had raised the most in traditional dollars through the most recent fundraising reports available, although Lamborn, a five-term incumbent, had the most cash on hand.

Democrats Stephany Rose Spauling and Betty Ann Field are also running for the seat in the heavily Republican district.

The deadline to report fundraising for the quarter that closed Sunday is Jan. 15, and while Hill didn’t offer numbers, he said he had a strong quarter with more donors than in previous periods.

“Accepting bitcoin is a small down payment on doing things differently, and we’re going to continue that energy and momentum,” he said.