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NFTs in US Politics - Fundraising and Outreach Innovation or Ethical Minefield?

September 7, 2023

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have exploded as a hot tech trend, driven by interest in cryptocurrencies and digital collectibles. Now, some US politicians are beginning to leverage NFTs for campaign fundraising and messaging. Could this become a game-changing innovation for political campaigns? Or does it introduce new ethical risks around influence peddling and voter exclusion?

The Rise of NFTs - Digital Ownership Reinvented

To understand the potential uses in politics, we first need to understand what NFTs actually are. An NFT is a blockchain-based token that represents ownership over a unique digital asset - usually some form of digital media like art, GIFs, videos, music, and more.

NFT stands for non-fungible token. This means each NFT is one-of-a-kind and not interchangeable with other tokens. This differs from cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin which are fungible (mutually interchangeable). The unique identifying metadata encoded in each NFT makes it verifiably scarce and distinct.

NFTs took off starting in 2021, driven by interest in using blockchain technology to sell digital media in new ways. Instead of copies, NFTs let artists sell original works directly to collectors and fans. This created a new crypto-native way to own authentic digital art and content.

NFT marketplaces like OpenSea and Rarible emerged to facilitate trading NFTs, often using the Ethereum cryptocurrency. These sites allow buyers to purchase NFTs from creators or collectors via auction or direct sale. Trades are recorded on public blockchains to track ownership.

Some individual NFTs have sold for millions, revealing massive demand for scarce digital media and assets. NFT collecting has become a status symbol in crypto circles, similar to physical art patronage.

For creators, NFT marketplaces enable direct monetization without relying on centralized platforms. The technology promises to reshape how digital commerce and ownership rights operate. It allows provable digital scarcity, a novel development.

This combination of verifiable scarcity, decentralized trade, and crypto-powered transactions is what makes NFTs uniquely appealing to some politicians and campaigns. Their novel use as political tools is already being explored in some 2022 races.

Early Forays into Political NFTs

In 2021, stories emerged of political candidates issuing NFTs for fundraising and campaigning. This includes mainstream politicians as well as third-party and independent voices:

  • In August 2021, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) announced plans to release a collection of NFT digital artwork to support House Democrats' fundraising. The idea was to allow people to directly support candidates through NFT purchases. Each buyer would gain ownership of a unique digital collectible.
  • Andrew Yang, former Democratic presidential candidate and founder of the Forward Party, has been an avid NFT promoter. He has discussed issuing free NFTs to supporters to drive engagement. Yang sees it as a new way to incentivize online political activism.
  • Vermont independent Bernie Sanders auctioned NFTs of his signature gloves, raising over $1.5 million for Meals on Wheels charities in Vermont. This demonstrated the fundraising potential of issuing exclusive NFT merchandise and collectibles.
  • Republican Cynthia Lummis, senator from Wyoming, revealed she owned Bitcoin and NFTs and aimed to be the first lawmaker to pay staffers in cryptocurrency. This highlighted growing NFT adoption even among conservative veteran politicians.
  • Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch, made waves by gifting rare NFT portraits to Lindsey Graham and other Republican leaders. Each NFT was valued at around $5,000, allowing Firtash to gain influence through NFT diplomacy.

These examples illustrate how NFTs are already gaining traction to raise funds, build supporter networks, and share political messages. Both mainstream and outsider candidates see the potential to use NFT innovation to their advantage.

NFT Marketplace Development Companies have also begun pitching political NFT solutions to campaigns. Like earlier online fundraising tools, NFTs are an emerging campaign technology niche. Expect more turnkey NFT platforms aimed at the political market.

Benefits and Opportunities of Political NFTs

Campaign strategists are still learning exactly how to leverage NFTs. But a few key advantages stand out that explain the growing adoption:

Fundraising Potential
NFTs offer a whole new channel for raising money to support candidates and causes. Campaigns can sell NFT art and collectibles directly to donors large and small. Rare 1-of-1 NFTs can be auctioned for high prices from wealthy patrons. More affordable tokens allow small-dollar donors to participate.

Supporter Engagement and Voter Outreach
NFTs are a way to energize younger voters immersed in the crypto culture. Avid NFT collectors and gamers are much more likely to engage with a candidate embracing Web3. Campaigns can also airdrop free NFTs to supporters to drive activism, similar to social media marketing.

Messaging and Storytelling Platform
NFT art and multimedia create opportunities for political messaging beyond speeches and ads. Campaigns can distill policy visions into NFT imagery as a form of visual persuasion. NFTs also work for negative attacks, through satirical cartoons or impactful video Montages.

Innovation and Disruption
Adopting new technology like NFTs gains media attention, frames a candidate as forward-thinking, and disrupts standard partisan narratives. It shakes up politics as usual. For insurgent candidates, it signals reform and progressive stances.

These powerful potential upsides help explain the early mover advantage some 2022 candidates are seeking by embracing NFT campaign strategies.

Risks and Downsides of Rushing into NFTs

However, beyond the hype, utilizing NFTs as a core campaign tactic poses some serious ethical and practical hazards:

Regressing to "Pay for Play" Dynamics
Selling exclusive NFT access to mega-donors risks echoing "pay for play" cronyism and soft money corruption. More transparency and accountability guardrails need to be in place to avoid NFTs becoming tools of influence peddling.

Environmental Damage
Most NFTs rely on the carbon-intensive Ethereum blockchain. This directly undercuts urgent climate policy priorities. Until NFTs transition to more sustainable networks, they pose a major environmental contradiction.

Market Volatility and Uncertainty
Cryptocurrency and NFTs remain highly unstable markets. A campaign overly dependent on crypto donations and revenue could implode if prices crash. And scandals like NFT fraud or hacking could backfire.

Exclusion from the Digital Divide
While exciting for some younger voters, NFT-focused strategies risk leaving less tech-savvy demographics behind. Campaigns need to avoid exacerbating the digital divide.

The Future Impact of Political NFTs - Fad or New Normal?

Time will tell whether political NFTs are a short-lived gimmick or an impactful new digital tactic. But they align well with rising metaverse and augmented reality technology trends. Supporter experiences will likely blend real-world and virtual engagement using AR and VR.

Perhaps newer blockchain models like proof of stake will reduce the carbon footprint of NFT platforms as well. And potentially tighter regulation may limit risks if NFT influence peddling becomes too rampant.

NFT Marketplace Development Companies will likely play a key role in shaping best practices and ethical guardrails too as they roll out turnkey services. With the right policies in place, NFTs do offer breakthrough ways to connect with supporters and voters using interactive digital ownership and participation.

The coming 2022 and 2024 elections will prove whether political NFT innovation mobilizes voters or simply motivates mega-donors. Ideally, the technology can boost participatory funding and policymaking. But without sufficient vision and oversight, NFTs risk becoming just another crypto-fueled feedback loop amplifying the role of big money in campaigns.

Time will tell if NFTs realize their positive potential or simply create new digital distortions in the already fragile state of US politics and elections. But the technology is here to stay and will likely disrupt politics at all levels sooner rather than later.

Emerging Legal Issues
The growing use of NFTs in politics also raises untested legal questions. The legality of fundraising through selling NFT assets has not been directly addressed in campaign finance laws. And the anonymity of crypto transactions creates challenges for enforcing transparency and reporting requirements.

There are also unsettled questions about properly disclosing NFT assets on financial disclosures for candidates and whether regulatory agencies like the FEC will treat NFT sales as in-kind contributions. Misreporting or non-disclosure of fundraising via NFTs could draw fines or allegations of wrongdoing.

So candidates exploring NFTs will need to proactively develop compliance processes. There are still gray areas on how both election and tax laws will be adapted and applied to digital assets. Until regulatory guidance catches up, campaigns face risks of inadvertent violations.


NFTs are still an emerging space in politics but have genuine potential to transform online fundraising, messaging, and supporter engagement. Wider adoption seems inevitable given the technology's momentum.

But without checks, selling NFTs to wealthy donors poses ethical risks. And dependencies on cryptocurrency markets, while innovative, remain volatile. NFTs may shake up the campaign playbook, but smarter regulation is needed so they empower average voters, not just mega-donors.

The ideal role of NFTs in politics should be opening up participation using virtual world tools that energize youth. If designed thoughtfully by companies like RWaltz, NFTs can modernize campaigns in keeping with values of transparency, reform, and grassroots populism.

US politics is notoriously slow to adapt to digital trends. But the meteoric rise of cryptocurrency and NFT markets shows blockchain technology is here to stay. In coming election cycles, voters should expect more candidates to conduct pioneering experiments using NFT fundraising, messaging, and community engagement.

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