Blockchain is permeating the world’s spheres of influence. A U.S. Congressional group dedicated to studying the technology underpinning the bitcoin cryptocurrency was set up today (Sept. 26) by two congressmen. The Congressional Blockchain Caucus was formed by Jared Polis, a Democrat congressman from Colorado and longtime bitcoin believer, and Mick Mulvaney, a Republican representing South Carolina.
The role of the caucus (officially known as congressional member organizations) is to get other legislators up to speed on a subject in the hopes of formulating future laws that affect that niche. It’s a bit like a club in high school where people of similar interests gather to discuss the issues of the day in their particular area. “The blockchain has boundless potential,” Polis said in a statement announcing the caucus’ formation.
Blockchain technology is shaking up high finance as banks rush to implement solutions that they believe will save them billions in back-office costs, for services like coordinating syndicated loans, and clearing and settling securities transactions. Outside finance, blockchain is also gaining traction in areas as diverse as tracking copyright of images, and the provenance of diamonds. It’s a far cry from the tech’s early days associated with bitcoin and contraband markets like the Silk Road. “The Blockchain Caucus will focus on raising awareness, advancing ideas that foster growth, and safeguarding consumers,” Polis said.
Caucuses have little authority, despite being official entities that must receive approval from a congressional committee before they can be registered. A caucus can’t hire its own staff or have its own office space, and must usually be supported by resources borrowed from its members. There seems to be a caucus for everything, as the Atlantic has pointed out, noting the formation of the Congressional Modeling and Simulation Caucus, the Congressional Bourbon Caucus, and the Congressional Boating Caucus, among others.
Whether a caucus is influential or not depends on how you view its particular subject. In 1996, a caucus was formed so members of congress could learn about the impact of an esoteric new technology on such matters as copyright, encryption, and privacy. That was the Congressional Internet Caucus. “Congress generally just didn’t seem to understand what the internet was all about,” its founder, Rep. Rick White told Government Technology in 1997, a year after the formation of the caucus.
One of the group’s big pushes was to get representatives to use a newfangled communications channel. “I think with the prevalence of e-mail in the rest of the business world, I think it is appropriate for congress to try to catch up,” he told the publication. The internet caucus is now an influential group in the legislature, its stature growing as the technology it was formed around became ubiquitous.
The Atlantic ended its caucus article in 2014 with this wry observation: “One never knows what group will form next — but hey, Rep. Jared Polis, there’s still no Congressional Bitcoin Caucus.” That changed today.