CFTC Action Brings DAOs Into The Enforcement Crosshairs

Up until last week, few had ever heard of bZeroX, let alone Ooki DAO.

But what a difference an enforcement action makes as the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced on Thursday a $250,000 penalty against bZeroX and its founders, Tom Bean and Kyle Kistner, as well as charges for members of the decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), Ooki DAO, for offering “illegal, off-Exchange digital-asset trading, registration violations, and failing to comply with Bank Secrecy Act.”

Wait… a DAO? Oh yes. Time will tell if the action creates a chilling effect for Americans participating or having an interest in DAOs. Many think that if they join a particular DAO’s Discord channel, they are now a part of a DAO.

But, the CFTC took it a step further saying Ooki DAO members were defined “as those holders of Ooki tokens that have voted on governance proposals with respect to running the business.”

The basis of the CFTC charges for the DAO suggest that the alleged offending assets of bZx Protocol may have been transferred to what was pitched to DAO members as a decentralized structure that could overcome today’s regulatory requirements:

“…On approximately August 23, 2021, bZeroX transferred control of the bZx Protocol to the bZx DAO, which subsequently renamed itself and is currently doing business as the Ooki DAO. The Ooki DAO operates the Ooki Protocol (formerly the bZx Protocol) in the exact same manner as bZeroX and thus is continuing to violate the law in the same manner as bZeroX. By transferring control to a DAO, bZeroX’s founders touted to bZeroX community members the operations would be enforcement-proof—allowing the Ooki DAO to violate the CEA and CFTC regulations with impunity, as alleged in the federal court action. The order finds the DAO was an unincorporated association of which Bean and Kistner were actively participating members and liable for the Ooki DAO’s violations of the CEA and CFTC regulations.”

One of the Commission’s five members, Summer Mersinger, dissented (see the detailed release) on the part of the order related to token holders in the DAO but agreed on the punishment for bZeroX and its founders.

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