My friend says that the recent crash in crypto is the result of its being treated too much as a hot commodity and not enough as a tool of liberation. “It was never meant to be just another financial choice,” she says, “not just a scam like an interest rate swap or easy money like gold and silver. Mark my words, scammer crypto will crash every time.”

But there’s at least one application of cryptocurrency that may have a direct relationship with public service, if on the dirtier side of it: campaign finance. The crypto-campaign-contribution scene is not consistent — some states explicitly allow it, others explicitly do not, and still others have no explicit allowance or prohibition, and others have limits (typically $100). Still, in both high profile and more local campaigns, candidates are accepting donations in cryptocurrency

The “youthful” orientation of the crypto crowd, whether the age numbers verify this or not, is one focus of media attention around these donations. Another common argument is that cryptocurrencies create easier “access” and efficiency of delivery. After all, a crypto exchange is just between the two parties, where a traditional exchange requires that transactions clear through banks or other financial institutions. 

Surely this makes cryptocurrency an attractive method of quickly (and perhaps discretely) contributing, right? “Well, but it’s not just the laws or the ease of exchange or even the alleged freedom from government oversight” my friend insists. “It’s the ethos. It’s the CRYPTO ETHOS.” 

Of crypto ethos, decentralized finance pioneer Andre Cronje has said: “I have long been vocal on my disdain of crypto culture, and my love for crypto ethos. Reading that might sound weird, but crypto ethos is concept like self-sovereign rights, self custody, self empowerment. Crypto culture is concepts like wealth, entitlement, enrichment, and ego.” My friend finds the use of cryptocurrency to finance campaigns romantic. She sees it as a “noble pursuit” rather than just a means of moving wealth. 

Of course, the problem is that noble or not, crypto isn’t doing well. Bitcoin has dropped 52 percent in value this year. The popular currency Coinbase laid off 18% of its workforce recently. Writing for MarketWatch, Kenneth Rogoff said that the sudden rise in interest rates surprised crypto players who had grown used to flat rates. And the temptation not to regulate crypto is strong, but so is the evidence that unregulated crypto is helping a lot of criminals become better at hiding their illegal transactions, particularly in developing countries. For whatever reasons, people are bailing out of these markets quickly. The “spent output profit ratio” used to track profit levels of digital currencies, is at its lowest level in a year. Which raises the question of whether crypto money in elections is actually worth investing in the first place. 

But enter the final boss: Recently, billionaire Democrat Sam Bankman-Fried says he could spend $1 billion or more in the 2024 election, which would easily make him the biggest-ever political donor in a single election. Bankman-Fried, at only 30 years old, is founder of FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange. He called the billion dollar figure a “soft ceiling” that could increase “if former President Donald Trump runs again.”  Like many his age, Bankman-Fried really dislikes Trump. Of course, with that kind of wealth, a billionaire could probably make campaign contributions in pennies, baseball cards, or sandwich coupons and someone would do the conversion for them.