By Julian Hattem - 04/29/14 05:10 PM EDT
MasterCard is paying lobbyists to focus on the growing digital currency bitcoin, according to federal lobbying disclosure records.
In a quarterly report filed this month, lobbying firm Peck Madigan Jones said that five of its lobbyists were concentrating on “Bitcoin and mobile payments,” among more than a dozen other issues, on behalf of MasterCard.
In a statement sent to The Hill, MasterCard said that it was “gathering information in connection with recent congressional hearings to better understand the policy issues around virtual and anonymous currencies.”
The bitcoin company Xapo is working with banks on a bitcoin debit card that uses MasterCard and Visa networks, but MasterCard said on Tuesday said that it had no relationship with the company.
Bitcoins have been controversial on Capitol Hill, where some lawmakers have viewed them skeptically and Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Mylan CEO should be ashamed of EpiPen prices Overnight Finance: Senate rejects funding bill as shutdown looms | Labor Dept. to probe Wells Fargo | Fed to ease stress test rules for small banks MORE (D-W.Va.) even called for an outright ban. Still, others have been quicker to embrace them.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) bought $10 worth of bitcoins at a press event earlier this month, and committees in both chambers have held a slew of hearings on the potentials and perils of the currency.
Bitcoins only exist online and can be used relatively anonymously, which has invited drug dealers, money launders and other would-be criminals to see the money as a favorable way to hide their profits.
Defenders counter that the currency is no more risky than cash, but say it has the potential to revolutionize the way people pay for things. Backers say that bitcoins are safe and transactions are much cheaper for businesses than credit cards, which charge fees.
So far, Congress has been interested in learning about the money but has resisted passing legislation on its use or treatment. MasterCard’s lobbying could be a sign of new activity on Capitol Hill.
Other agencies, however, have begun to flex their oversight muscles on the issue.
The Federal Election Commission is currently eyeing whether to allow campaigns to accept bitcoin contributions, and the IRS recently declared that bitcoins should be treated like a property, not currency, when people pay their taxes.
This story has been updated to clarify the relationship between MasterCard and Xapo.