Sen. Sherrod Brown and Trump-backed opponent Bernie Moreno are at odds over the risks and benefits of digital currency.
A major clash over cryptocurrency is brewing in Cleveland, and it could impact control of Congress.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, one of the digital asset industry’s biggest critics and Washington roadblocks, is facing a tough reelection campaign that could make or break Democrats’ Senate majority. Thanks to an endorsement this week by former President Donald Trump, he may well face a general election opponent who’s a major evangelist for crypto technology: GOP candidate Bernie Moreno.
As Senate Banking Committee chair, Brown has warned for years about the risks that crypto poses to consumers and the financial system. He’s one of the toughest obstacles the crypto industry faces in advancing legislation that would help give it regulatory credibility.
Moreno, a former car dealer, has championed initiatives to turn Cleveland into a hub for startups that use blockchain , the digital ledger technology behind crypto. He’s the founder of a blockchain startup and has even paid some of his businesses’ taxes in bitcoin, according to Cleveland.com .
The looming clash is a sign of just how partisan the crypto debate is becoming in the run-up to the 2024 election, with key Democrats voicing skepticism of the industry and Republicans increasingly coalescing around friendly policies that would boost crypto firms. The stakes are high for crypto executives and investors, who are poised to spend more than $78 million to influence upcoming races.
Brown and Moreno are beginning to trade barbs over the issue.
“A career politician like Sherrod Brown has absolutely no idea how digital currencies work and is the least qualified person possible to regulate the industry,” Moreno said in a statement. “Innovation is what built America into the greatest country on earth. Sadly, left-wing extremists like Brown want more government control to restrict the ability of Americans to invest freely in cryptocurrencies.”
Brown campaign manager Rachel Petri said in a statement: “Sherrod Brown takes a back seat to no one when it comes to standing up to special interests — including crypto — to level the playing field for Ohioans and protect them from fraud.”
The crypto industry’s 2024 political push has had an early focus on Ohio. A pro-crypto dark money group, the Cedar Innovation Foundation, launched a six-figure digital ad campaign in the state aimed at pressuring Brown and Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler. Coinbase, the largest U.S. digital asset exchange, has hosted a pair of town halls in Ohio as part of a grassroots “Stand with Crypto” campaign. (None of the major pro-crypto groups have backed Moreno or any of Brown’s other potential opponents.)
Crypto advocates are hoping to raise their profile with voters, but some in the industry warn that a foray into Ohio comes with risk. It could anger Brown, who if reelected is likely to remain the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, which would be responsible for writing digital asset rules. One crypto lobbyist granted anonymity said it could make things “really painful” if Brown holds onto his seat.
Brown said last week he was unmoved by the industry’s efforts: “Bring ’em on,” he told reporters.
“They’ve had a bad six months,” he said, pointing to the fraud conviction of former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried and concerns about crypto’s use in funding terrorism. “They clearly have betrayed the public interest. If they think that’s the way to attack someone politically? Pretty amazing.”