Jim Harper, global policy counsel at the Bitcoin Foundation, wants the trade group's new lobbying firm, Thorsen French Advocacy to model their government relations work to his efforts in introducing Capitol Hill to PayPal in the early 2000s.
During the early 2000s PayPal was an unknown payment system, says Harper, during a webinar on June 9. Harper's own lobbying and consulting firm, PolicyCounsel.com formerly represented PayPal, and Harper lobbied Capitol Hill, telling Congressional staffers what it was and how it worked, plus gathering those staffer's interests and concerns.
"It was signaling that [PayPal] was a mature, responsible business," Harper says. This is "what I want Thorsen French to do with Bitcoin."
The Bitcoin Foundation just announced its hire of the bipartisan Thorsen French in an attempt to demystify Bitcoin to U.S. regulators, Senators and House members. In the future, the Foundation hopes good relations with Capitol Hill will allow it to push its agenda, especially in terms of regulation.
The Foundation expects to do the same government relations work in Europe and other major hubs around the world, Harper says, citing the European Banking Authority's opinion that financial institutions to avoid dealing in the virtual currency.
"That's a discreet instance of a more general problem to risk aversion in the field of financial services," Harper says. "Risk aversion is hard to get rid of because banks deal with a heavy and complex regulatory environment."
While the Foundation will address this risk aversion to Bitcoin, it could be a year or longer before banks start integrating the digital currency into their operations, he says.
Other issues Thorsen French will address are the tension between privacy interests and law enforcement, questions about taxation and consumer protections, says Harper.
Since Harper came to the Foundation in March, the group has received a number of pitches from lobbying firms, including several from firms that specialize in financial services and payments.
But the Foundation made a strategic decision to choose a firm with a "clean slate" in these areas, Harper says. Thorsen French doesn't "have a pre-existing role in past financial services battles and we hope that will prove wise."
The Foundation is also unveiling a new website to be more communicative and show how much the group has grown, says Jinyoung Lee Englund, director of marketing and communications, during the webinar.