Bitcoin has finally grabbed the attention of Congress. Earlier this year, a Robocoin brand Bitcoin ATM machine was brought to D.C. and put on display in Congress. There, Congressman Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado, publicly purchased some bitcoin, becoming the first United States Representative to do so.
Polis remains Bitcoin's biggest proponent in Congress, but if things go right in the upcoming primary and general election in November, Bitcoin could have another staunch ally. B.J. Guillot is running for a Congressional seat in Washington State's 2nd District. But, where Polis is just getting into Bitcoin, Guillot was born from our ranks.
B.J. Guillot is a Bitcoin miner. Even today, he stubbornly sticks to mining actual Bitcoin and not any of the potentially more profitable altcoins. A strong supporter of internet and privacy rights, Guillot hopes to make Bitcoin support bipartisan by joining Congress as a Republican.
I first met Guillot at the Bitcoin in the Beltway Conference last week (where another Bitcoin ATM, by CoinOutlet was on display). Unfortunately, we didn't have the time for a video interview at the conference, but we did send some questions his way to better understand his positions, Bitcoin history and why he is running for Congress.
Cointelegraph: When did you first hear about Bitcoin, and when did you get into it?
B.J. Guillot: In the past, I would check slashdot.org on a daily basis to skim the headlines. For a long time, there seemed to be Bitcoin stories popping up fairly frequently. I didn't pay much attention to them at first, but eventually I decided it was finally time to look into it further. I went to try out the electronic wallet from Coinbase and purchased my first 3 BTC on 3/29/2013. I also installed the Bitminter mining client on my aging Mac Mini and received my first mining pool income on 3/30/2013 (a hair more than 0.01 BTC). I was hooked on mining after that.
Since I have the floor, let me just state for the record, the new Slashdot web design and user experience is really poor. I've since moved on to soylentnews.org for my daily science and tech news.
CT: Are you still mining Bitcoin or have you moved onto altcoins or given up completely? If you are still mining, I am curious what kind of hardware you have set up.
BG: I am still mining Bitcoin. I have not done anything with altcoins yet. My wife suggested we try our hand at Litecoin mining, but we never got around to setting it up.
Equipment on hand: Two KnCMiner Jupiters--both still working, though it's probably about time to decommission them due to their electricity costs. One CoinTerra, but it is currently not working. Two Spondoolies-Tech SP10's--still working but neither at full speed. I've decommissioned my CPU and GPU mining setups several months ago. For better power efficiency, I'm running the hardware off a 240V outlet. (Our stove is gas-powered and there was an unused 240V outlet intended for an electric range that I was able to utilize for a 240V PDU.)
I have several other pieces of equipment on order, though in hindsight, with the rising difficulty level, I probably should have requested refunds when it was still possible to do so. Two Butterfly Labs Imperial Monarchs that I believe should arrive in "two weeks" (from my first mining equipment order dating from April 2013--yes 2013--for a 50 GH/s miner eventually converted to a Monarch order), a KnCMiner Neptune that just shipped today, and two Spondoolies-Tech SP30's that should be shipping in August.
I don't plan to order any additional hardware, because at the currency difficulty levels and difficulty projections, it appears break-even won't happen with any of this equipment unless the BTC/USD price goes up. Certainly no break-even possible if you're just considering BTC profit. The CoinTerra, Spondoolies-Tech, and Neptune orders were paid for by mining returns made on those very first Jupiters.
My advice to folks: It's too late to get into Bitcoin mining at this stage. Don't even try anymore unless you just want to do it for fun and learn how the process works--which is totally a fine thing to do as long as you understand you won't make any money.
CT: You are a registered Republican, but you also drive a Nissan Leaf and mine Bitcoin. Is it fair to say you step outside of the standard mold of the party?
BG: No two people agree on exactly the same things. It's important to understand that people involved with a political party don't necessarily agree with 100% of the party platform. I try to keep an open mind about things and my educational background in computer science and mathematics along a love of science and technology have shaped many of my opinions and beliefs. I drive a Nissan Leaf because I find the technology behind it fascinating and game-changing. While I like the fact that it is a zero emissions vehicle, that wasn't my primary driver in the purchasing decision. My one regret about it is that the 2012 model that I own was not built in the United States. I think it's important that we try to support products made or assembled in the United States when possible, and I am glad that Nissan now builds Leaf's in Tennessee starting with the 2013 model.
I don't own a Moto X smartphone, but was very excited to hear that Google was building them in Texas, and then equally bummed out to hear, just recently, that are discontinuing that and moving assembly back to China. It will be interesting to see how long Apple will keep building the new Mac Pro's in the US.
CT: How has the experience collecting Bitcoin for your political campaign worked out so far?
BG: It’s been getting a lot of attention. Many people in the virtual currency community have reacted very favorably, but I've also received negative reactions, too. To be compliant with FEC rules, I need to know the names and addresses of the individuals donating. A lot of cryptocurrency advocates are strong supporters of the perceived anonymous nature of Bitcoin (which in reality, due to the blockchain, isn't actually anonymous at all), and refuse to contribute if they have to provide those personal details.
CT: Do you know what kind of percentage of your donations have been given in Bitcoin?
BG: Excluding my own personal self-financing contributions to the campaign, Bitcoin donations currently make up just about 10% of campaign revenues.
CT: Do you think patent trolls could hinder open-sourced projects like Bitcoin someday?
BG: The entire patent system is broken and in serious need of reform. It's currently stifling a great deal of innovation. A frank discussion needs to happen concerning the legitimacy of software patents. Too many plainly obvious ideas and concepts that have clear prior art are getting patented. I don't claim to have all the answers here, but am open to hearing ideas from the community on how to fix it.
CT: Do you think Bitcoin could help increase transparency in political campaigns or hinder it?
BG: For contributions by individuals to a candidate's campaign committee, Bitcoin does nothing to either increase or decrease transparency compared to non-Bitcoin donations. All donations have to be reported according to the FEC rules. The real problem related to transparency in political campaigns is that Super PAC's allow anonymous donations. And that anonymous money can then be spent to get a candidate's viewpoint across as long as the PAC's don't coordinate with the campaign.
Watch the segments that Stephen Colbert did about this to get a much more eloquent description of the process. I don't have a problem with wealthy individuals or corporations contributing large amount of money to Super PAC's, but I do have a problem with it being done anonymously.
CT: The Incumbent Rick Larsen also came out in support of several internet related issues you agree with him on, including reigning in the NSA, and opposition to SOPA . Where do you differ from him on these issues?
BG: Just because Representative Larsen is my opponent doesn't mean I have to disagree with 100 % of his voting record. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. But if you want to talk specifics: He was wrong when he voted in favor of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001, which began the great erosion of our civil liberties. He was wrong when he signed a letter sent to the FCC in 2009 that essentially said he disagreed with Net Neutrality. And while Rep. Larsen has been recently voting to rein in the NSA, according to the Congressman's spokesman, he does not favor a clemency deal for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
CT: Relating to that, Larsen voted for the USA Freedom act, which was meant to rein in the NSA but was watered down to the point that 38 Civil Liberty and privacy advocacy groups that previously supported it came out against its passage. With the changes made to the bill, would you have voted for it?
BG: One particular change made to the bill, conveniently buried on the last page, extended the USA PATRIOT Act sunset date from June 1, 2015 to December 31, 2017. Yuck.
CT: Your site has many of your stances listed, but foreign policy isn't. What do you think America's foreign policy should be and what do you think about the situations in Iraq and Ukraine?
BG: America needs a strong military to protect ourselves from threats, but we shouldn't be the world's policemen. We need to bring our troops home from Afghanistan, and stay out of these new conflicts brewing in Iraq and other places. There was a clear mission for the Afghanistan incursion: Get Osama Bin Laden. Once Bin Laden was captured (though that happened in Pakistan), the mission was accomplished, and the Afghanistan conflict should have ended right then.
To be clear, this doesn't mean we need to pull out of all the military bases around the world that we operate. Those need to stay up and running as part of keeping our military strong. But sustained conflicts don't really help anyone, and also cost too much money. The continuous deployments put too much pressure on our troops and their families. The situation in Ukraine is certainly concerning, and continued talks need to happen with Russia about our displeasure with their actions, but we shouldn't get involved militarily in any such conflict there.
CT: With Washington's recent legalization of recreational marijuana, what is your stance on that?
BG: The people of Washington spoke in favor of legalization when they directly approved Initiative 502 with 56% of the vote in 2012. I personally voted "Yes" on it because I believe individuals should be able to make their own decisions about what they can consume and put into their body. It's not the government's place to make these decisions for you. Whether it's using marijuana, wanting to purchase a large fountain drink, or drink raw milk--it's none of my business if you want to do that. I believe people are smart enough to make their own informed decisions.
The nice thing about the topic of marijuana is that it provides a nice segue back to Bitcoin. Because marijuana is illegal at the Federal level, many banks are not friendly towards the industry, and owners of marijuana dispensaries are having a hard time opening business bank accounts. That means they are unable to take checks or credit cards. It's turning into an all-cash business, which can be dangerous for the buyers and owners (when criminals know there are large amounts of cash being taken in and out of the business), and it's bad for the State of Washington, because it's a lot harder to track all-cash receipts and some unscrupulous owners may decide to under report their income and sales taxes.
If the dispensaries were setup to accept Bitcoin, it is much safer because there's less physical cash floating around at the shop. The blockchain would also allow better auditing of the financial transactions. And finally, it could incentivize the State Government to start accepting sales tax and B&O tax payments directly in Bitcoin if it meant they would have a better chance of collecting tax revenue from the businesses that are unable to secure a traditional bank account.
CT: Finally, out of all the things you saw at the conference, which Bitcoin / Cryptocurrency innovation do you think has the best chance to make a positive impact on our society?
BG: Unfortunately, I missed the discussions on Bitcoin 2.0 and many of the other new innovations as I was mostly attending the regulatory track talks. I see two big hurdles in terms of getting Bitcoin to make a larger impact on our society: First, there needs to be more clarity on how Bitcoin should be treated for financial purposes. Secondly, and even more importantly, more merchants need to be able to accept Bitcoin so that it can gain mass acceptance.
I especially loved one of the comments an audience member made at my panel discussion over the weekend in which he likened Bitcoin treatment to the wave-particle duality concept from quantum mechanics: "Is it currency or property? It's both." The IRS and FEC consider virtual currencies to be property subject to capital gains treatment, whereas FINCEN considers it currency subject to "money transmitter" regulations. This discrepancy makes it very difficult for individuals and business owners to understand which laws to follow and how to properly file taxes because the two interpretations are not reconcilable.
Thank you for the questions. It was a privilege being able to answer them.
We thank B.J. Guillot for taking the time to answer our questions. You can find out more about him at his website www.voteforbj.com. If you live in Washington's 2nd district, you need to register to vote for the State's blanket primary by July 7th. The primary take place on August 5, with the top two candidates (regardless of political party) moving on to the November 4 general election. You can register to vote here.