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Newport Beach candidate taking donations in bitcoins

City Council contender Michael Glenn adds a feature to his website allowing supporters to contribute in the digital currency, which is converted to dollars.

December 26, 2013|By Emily Foxhall
  • Bitcoin company Coinbase raised $25 million in its latest fundraising round.
Bitcoin company Coinbase raised $25 million in its latest fundraising… (George Frey / Getty Images )

When Newport Beach City Council candidate Michael Glenn thinks of freedom, that includes the freedom to choose how to donate, be it with dollars, pesos or bitcoins.

Glenn claims to be the first local politician to accept campaign donations in the esoteric digital currency. He is seeking the Balboa Peninsula's 1st District council seat being vacated by Mike Henn. Also in the race are businesswoman Diane Dixon and Harbor Commissioner Joe Stapleton.

Glenn's announcement comes weeks after individuals used bitcoins to pay for a Tesla car, and then a Lamborghini, from a Costa Mesa dealership.

But as the chief executive of a Web development company, Glenn felt familiar with the virtual currency — created by a computer programmer in 2009 — long before it appeared in recent headlines. He even possessed some bitcoins himself.

The idea to accept bitcoins percolated in his mind until, after about two months of research into potential legal issues, Glenn took his online payment system live Wednesday.

Although he is not sure how many donations — if any — will eventually come of it, he sees the move as being in line with the ideology of an open and accessible politician who simultaneously desires to be inclusive and challenge the status quo.

"The things I'm doing are not necessarily for the benefit of my campaign," he said. "They're for the benefit of where I think the structure should be going."

From a donor's perspective, the process for giving by using bitcoins mirrors that of giving by way of credit card. Users click a "donate now" button on Glenn's Web page. They select the dollar amount they would like to give, enter the necessary personal information and proceed to a payment page, where they enter credit card information or receive steps for sending their bitcoins.

A processing agency called Coinbase receives the bitcoins, converts them into dollars and passes the money into Glenn's account.

Glenn, a Balboa Peninsula resident, feels confident that this process helps ensure compliance with the California Fair Political Practices Commission's stipulation that only a singular bank account can be used for donations. He said he never handles the bitcoins himself.

He said his account has already received donations.

emily.foxhall@latimes.com

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