Presidential candidate Rand Paul describes himself as a politician who bridges old ideas and new technology, and he sought to get that message across at a fundraising get-together with Bitcoin enthusiasts this week.
"I'm not an expert on Bitcoin, but I'm open to new technology," Paul told a small but intent crowd of mostly twenty- and thirty-somethings at the Union League Club in New York on Sunday. "To me it's intriguing to actually eliminate cost somehow in the transfer of money and buying things."
His backdrop was a room steeped in the history of the Republican Party, including portraits of a mutton-chopped Chester A. Arthur, bushy-bearded Rutherford B. Hayes and other, more recent Republican presidents. Yet there were modern wrinkles, like the banner displayed behind Paul of the logos of Bitcoin-based companies.
The Kentucky senator, one of a large field of candidates chasing the GOP nomination, said that he became more interested in the technology behind the cryptocurrency after reading Netscape co-founder and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen's take on the payments potential for digital currencies and blockchains.
Andreessen has been supportive of blockchain tech that could speed alternative payments and make them more transparent, as well as of payments software that could enable smaller companies to compete with large retailers such as Walmart.
A lenient hand helped foster development of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, Paul said. "I'm open to innovation, I'm open to ideas, and I think if we had so many naysayers 25 years ago saying we should regulate the Internet or have the government regulate the Internet we'd have never gotten to where we are now," Paul said.
Never one to waste an opportunity to bring up civil liberties, Paul also spoke generally on the subject and its importance to his party. He introduced legislation in 2013 that would affect what financial information, among other items, the government can collect on citizens.
"We need to make our party the party of the entire Bill of Rights," not just the right to bear arms, Paul said.
His bill, the Fourth Amendment Preservation and Protection Act, would curtail the government from so-called third-party consent doctrine surveillance, which includes law enforcement’s ability to subpoena bank records without a warrant in criminal investigations. Such a proposal would have broad implications on anti-money-laundering efforts. The bill did not attract cosponsors nor receive a committee vote in the last Congress; he has not reintroduced the bill this year.
Paul did not make himself available to questions from reporters at the event, but several audience members chimed in afterward.
"I would've liked to hear more on the regulatory road ahead," said Aidan Doyle, the chief executive of Bellwether Capital Management, a brokerage and financial advisory firm.
"I don't trust my government," Paul supporter, Florida lounge owner, and self-described Bitcoin-enthusiast Dylan Harrison said after Paul spoke. "I think anyone with their eyes open is searching for the one," which, he added, is Paul.
Austin Alexander, founding member of event sponsor Bitcoin Center NYC, an entity that promotes bitcoin and runs an exchange of the currency, killed time before the talk while Paul held a private meeting with donors in another room.
Alexander, who campaigned for Paul's father Ron during his longshot presidential bid of 2012 and solicited donations for the elder Paul's political action committee, railed against federal regulation, the New York Department of Financial Services, the Federal Reserve and establishment politics.
"This is the only candidate who not only is accepting Bitcoin but understands the importance and level of profundity of technology," Alexander said. "I think this is the beginning of the Bitcoin community getting behind their candidate, going behind the only man who has the understanding and has this on the radar and understands this technology can facilitate an entire generation of innovations."
He urged attendees to donate to Paul — in bitcoins, of course.