Apr 14, 2022 - Technology

Congressional candidate Matt West harnessing NFTs for fundraising

Photo illustration of Matt West and his campaign's NFT.

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Images: courtesy of Matt West for Congress

Memes have power, but candidate for Congress Matt West is about to test whether they have electoral power in his run in Oregon's 6th Congressional District, an open seat situated in counties just southwest of Portland.

Why it matters: Sometimes, if a political candidate approaches the internet just right, it can make all the difference.

  • Flashback: In 2008, the heyday of web comics, Kansas state House candidate Sean Tevis raised his entire campaign budget in a day with an inspired comic strip posted on his website.
  • It made jokes the web liked and, so, went viral.

What's happening: Today, the meme in question is NFTs (non-fungible tokens). At around 3pm ET West was set to release a series of 2,000 Crypto Beavers NFTs that supporters can buy to back his run. (Beavers are Oregon's state animal.)

  • "I really think it's going to be a great way to fight back against dark money, DC elites and centralized power in a very unique way," West tells Axios.

Reality check: Similar to Tevis' web comic 14 years ago, NFTs are very of-the-moment — though it could also be that the moment has passed.

  • Then there is the issue of complexity. Initial sales will only take place on the NFT website, requiring know-your-customer checks to verify the buyer is a legal campaign donor.
  • "The biggest issue with NFTs and campaigns is it is considered a donation," West explained. "So only those who are legally allowed to donate are legally allowed to mint."

Details: The campaign's NFTs will live on Ethereum, the second biggest blockchain.

  • The NFTs will cost from 0.05 ETH (about $155) to 1.5 ETH (about $4,650).
  • Secondary market sales will pay royalties to the artist, Paul Zeaiter, not the campaign.

Of note: West is a Democrat who says his primary concern is climate change. The general idea of his campaign, he said, is, "Tax the rich, save the planet."

  • West taught himself to code during the pandemic and began contributing to Yearn Finance, a robo-advisor that runs on Ethereum. Users can dump assets into it and it will move them around as needed to find the best yield.
  • "Crypto is part of my background, for sure. We do need to work toward effective regulation," he said.

The intrigue: Not only is this the busiest congressional district in the state, with 16 candidates declared (according to Ballotpedia), but two of West's opponents have crypto ties as well.

  • One such opponent, Carrick Flynn, is backed by Protect Our Future, a political action committee backed by Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of FTX and one of the wealthiest people in the industry.
  • Another opponent, Cody Reynolds, has also worked on behalf of a number of crypto projects, from data firms to decentralized finance.
  • Intriguingly, these are all Democrats, despite the fact that the party has been the colder of the two, toward crypto.

The bottom line: The general election is 207 days away, but first he has to get through a crowded primary. "I'm fighting for a progressive vision here, where we can have a web3 future," West said.

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