The cryptocurrency Bitcoin -- and the technologies around it -- has a newly organized group of advocates behind it, headed by someone with deep experience in translating technologies for political consumption.
Jerry Brito, a law professor who was until recently the head of the technology policy program at George Mason's Mercatus Center, announced in August that he was leaving for "a new adventure." On Thursday, Brito announced that he will be heading an organization called Coin Center, what he describes as a "new non-profit research and advocacy center focused on the public policy issues facing cryptocurrency technologies."
"Our mission is to build a better understanding of these technologies and to promote a regulatory climate that preserves maximum freedom of action for digital currency innovation," Brito writes in the shop's founding letter. "We will do this by producing and publishing policy research from respected academics and experts, educating policymakers and the media about block chain technology, and by engaging in advocacy for sound public policy."
Coin Center will, according to Brito, have an annual budget of more than $1 million, with contributions from venture capitalists like Andreessen Horowitz, Union Square Ventures, and RRE Ventures and bitcoin-tied firms like BitPay, Coinbase, and Xapo. Board members will include innovator and entrepreneur Marc Andreessen, Andreessen Horowitz partner Balaji Srinivasan, bitcoin developer Jeff Garzik, Hudson River Trading partner Alex Morcos, and Stanford business professor Susan Athey.
The group is a little bit Electronic Frontier Foundation -- founded in 1990 and dedicated to "defending your rights in the digital world" -- and a little bit P2P Ride-Share coalition, the group that popped up in February to help companies like Lyft in the regulatory fights they're waging in cities across the country.
In fact, disruptive technologies, to borrow a Silicon Valley phrase, are increasingly running into federal, state, and local legal battles, as we've seen with companies like Uber and Airbnb. It's becoming fairly common for tech start-ups in even their earliest phases to hire a public policy expert as one of their first half-dozen employees. Bitcoin might be a bit unusual for being a fairly amorphous technology that is getting its very own advocacy center before, arguably, going all that mainstream.
That's not to say that it's off the radar of regulators. In August, for example, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau warned of Bitcoin that "at this point consumers are stepping into the Wild West when they engage in the market." But there are no doubt plenty more regulatory battles that will be had, and with the Coin Center bitcoin's backers are attempting to get ahead of them.