A loosely-organized group of crypto investors is raising money from people on the internet to buy a copy of the U.S. Constitution when it goes up for auction on Thursday at Sotheby’s.
Operating under the name ConstitutionDAO, the group is asking like-minded people to donate to their seemingly quixotic project using essentially the crypto equivalent of crowdfunding. Participants donate Ethereum though Juicebox.money, a platform for community owned Ethereum-based projects.
It’s not the first time a crypto DAO has bought real-world goods: In July, PleasrDAO bought for $4 million a copy of the Wu-Tang Clan album once owned by Martin Shkreli. Earlier this month, TungstenDAO bought a one-ton cube of tungsten for $250,000. This effort by ConstitutionDAO represents one of the largest sums of money raised at the intersection of crypto and analog to date.
Contributions came in slowly, then all at once. At 3:01 p.m. in New York, the group had raised $17 million. By 3:17 p.m., it was $23 million. As of late Wednesday evening, the pot is over $31 million.
What started as a group raising money with its Twitter and Discord accounts quickly escalated: Two of its members formed a Delaware LLC. Then, the group partnered with Endaoment, which offers donor-advised funds based on top of Ethereum. According to an FAQ document posted on Twitter by one of ConstitutionDAO’s members, “Endaoment, which has compliance with Sotheby’s know-your-customer requirements, will place a bid on behalf of the DAO when the auction goes live.”
Amber Fehrenbacher, 34, stumbled on the group on her Twitter feed last weekend. She made a small donation and offered up her marketing experience — the group traffics heavily in memes, many of Nicolas Cage in a call back to the film “National Treasure.” Fehrenbacher, who lives in Columbia, Missouri, says the experience has shown her that cryptocurrency can be useful in “real life.”
The chances of winning are slim, and many participants seem to accept that. The DAO needed $14 million to participate in the auction, while Sotheby’s estimates the document will sell for between $15 million and $20 million. What happens if they do win? Investors will receive a governance token depending on the size of their contribution, which would give them a say on where the copy of the Constitution would be displayed or how it should be exhibited, according to ConstitutionDAO’s website.
And if it loses? That’s a little more tricky. As with fiat crowdfunding, there’s no guarantee beyond the group’s word that the funds will be returned. ConstitutionDAO says contributors will be able to redeem their funds through Juicebox — for a fee. The group will move funds back into the Juicebox contract in 24 hours if it fails to come up with the winning bid. Contributors will also have the chance to vote to remain in the DAO and direct the funds toward acquiring other historic items, according to ConsititutionDAO’s frequently asked questions Google document.
Aakash Adesara, 23, of San Francisco didn’t think ConstitutionDAO would win the bid, but he donated .2 ETH anyway because he wanted “to be a part of something pretty revolutionary.” The successful fundraising gives Adesara hope people can rally together to tackle big issues like climate change.
“I’m really excited to see what happens tomorrow, this hasn’t happened before,” said Adesara. “Even if we lose I think it’s still a win because so many people have gotten together and are working together to make this happen, that proves that a crypto related project in the future could pull the same amount and caliber and type of people together to make really cool things happen.”
When Orchid Bertelsen invested .25 ETH, she also didn’t expect much of a return. She wanted to be part of American history and a modern movement. “This is an inflection point for crypto reaching mainstream,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of that movement, the kind of Internet history that is being made right now.”
As for Endaoment CEO Robbie Heeger, he’s feeling “optimistically confident” about the bidding tomorrow. But he said he’s also happy just to be in the room. “We’re so excited about that, regardless of the outcome.”