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NGP-VAN Adds Bitcoin Donation Tool

BY Miranda Neubauer | Wednesday, June 18 2014


The Democratic campaign technology provider NGP-VAN has now integrated a Bitcoin contribution option to its fundraising platform. The company, which provides fundraising and digital organizing tools for Democratic organizations and campaigns including the DNC, the DSCC, the DCCC, the DGA, Organizing for Action, House and Senate candidates and others, announced the development in a blog post Tuesday.

The new tool resulted from a hackathon NGP-VAN organized for its development teams, Ben McIllwain, lead developer for digital products at NGP Van wrote in the post.

"My fellow developers and I had the latitude to work on anything we wanted, and my first inclination was to work on political contributions using Bitcoin. I wanted to work on Bitcoin because (a) it's something a lot of developers, organizations, and companies have been talking about but no one has done yet, and (b) I'm very interested in digital currencies," he wrote. "As my coworkers will attest, I've been excited about Bitcoin since before pretty much anyone else had even heard about it. I may have even driven a few coworkers crazy with my talk about the project for the whole month leading up to the hackathon."

Any NGP-VAN customer can now enable the Bitcoin feature to appear as an option on their contribution page along with the usual credit card options, McIllwain explained in the post.

Adding the Bitcoin implementation within the 24 hour period of the hackathon was not too difficult, McIllwain wrote, as he was easily able to add the new option to pages due to the extensibility of ActionTag, NGP-VAN's existing JavaScript rendering application that it uses to display all its forms, including its contribution forms, and the ability to integrate BitPay, the third-party payment provider that handles Bitcoin processing. "Because we’ve made it a company priority to build flexible, extensible tools that can easily integrate with other technologies, I was able to integrate with BitPay and get any of our clients’ forms to accept Bitcoin in under a day," he wrote.

Campaigns, candidates or organizations that are interested in accepting BitCoin need to create a BitPay account, create a BitPay API key and then submit their information to the NGP VAN support team.

"We don’t expect Bitcoin to become the primary way Democratic campaigns and progressive organizations start accepting contributions anytime soon, but we do hope this shows that NGP VAN is committed to building products that can quickly respond to new technologies and integrate with innovative new tools," McIllwain wrote in the post.

As McIllwain noted, the FEC recently ruled that campaign committees could accept Bitcoin contributions of up to $100 per person per cycle.

Last November, Sarah Lai Stirland explored for techPresident some of the challenges facing the broader acceptance of Bitcoin among campaigns. Two candidates who accepted Bitcoin in 2012, a Libertarian New Hampshire state representative and an Independent Vermont State Senate candidate, told techPresident at the time that while they were able to raise about half their campaign funds from Bitcoin, setting up the payment infrastructure, including using services like Bitpay, was not always straightforward.

Louis Levine, GP VAN’s General Manager of Fundraising and Compliance, told techPresident at the time that he felt that given the minor volume of BitCoin donations, many campaigns would not be able to afford devoting the staff time to managing different accounts.

Colorado Democrat Rep. Jared Polis became the first federal elected official to announce in May after the FEC's ruling that he would accept Bitcoin donations, and raised $1,500 in Bitcoin from 39 donors in under a week.