WASHINGTON—Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman
signaled that he would support Congress handing more authority to the SEC’s sister markets regulator to oversee certain cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.
Mr. Gensler, speaking at an industry conference, said Thursday he looked forward to working with Congress to give the Commodity Futures Trading Commission added power, to the extent the agency needs greater authority to oversee and regulate “nonsecurity tokens…and the related intermediaries.”
The remarks come amid an intensifying battle among federal agencies and congressional committees that oversee them over who will regulate crypto.
Cryptocurrencies remain largely unregulated by the federal government, leaving investors without protections from fraud and market manipulation that come with many other types of investments. The competition for jurisdiction heated up in recent months as a meltdown in crypto markets underscored the need for guardrails in the eyes of many policy makers.
The competition also reflects the industry’s ramped-up lobbying presence in Washington and its push to reach more mainstream investors through Super Bowl ads and other high-profile marketing initiatives.
Mr. Gensler, who headed the CFTC from 2009 to 2014, qualified his remarks by saying he welcomed working with lawmakers as long as it doesn’t take away power from the SEC.
“Let’s ensure that we don’t inadvertently undermine securities laws,” he said. “We’ve got a $100 trillion capital market. Crypto is less than $1 trillion worldwide. But we don’t want that to somehow undermine what we do elsewhere.”
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Leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee, which oversees the CFTC, are pitching legislation that would assign oversight of the two largest cryptocurrencies—bitcoin and ether—to that agency. At present, the CFTC only has the power to regulate derivatives—such as futures and swaps—as opposed to cash or spot markets where the underlying assets are bought and sold for immediate delivery.
The SEC has declined for years to assert jurisdiction over bitcoin and ether, which proponents say are more ‘decentralized’ than other cryptocurrencies. Mr. Gensler noted Thursday that bitcoin is often likened to a digital form of gold, and that it doesn’t bear all of the characteristics of a security.
has asked Congress to pass a law that would allow the CFTC to regulate cash markets for certain types of cryptocurrencies and provide it with funding to conduct additional oversight.
After objecting for years to meaningful federal oversight, cryptocurrency lobbyists have recently shifted their focus to convincing lawmakers and regulators that the CFTC should have primary jurisdiction over their industry. They say the SEC’s rules for traditional securities like stocks and bonds don’t fit because cryptocurrencies aren’t organized as traditional corporations with stockholders.
Jake Chervinsky, head of policy at the Blockchain Association, a crypto lobbying group, said in a statement that “decades of legal precedent shows that most digital assets” are commodities.” He said lawmakers should address the issue.
“This is a matter for Congress rather than regulators, and we’re glad to see consensus in Congress that the CFTC, not the SEC, should regulate spot markets,” he said.
While Mr. Gensler’s comments suggest that his agency shouldn’t oversee bitcoin, the SEC has said other cryptocurrencies are securities that fall under its jurisdiction and should comply with investor-protection laws.
Mr. Gensler has also repeatedly demanded that cryptocurrency-trading platforms such as Coinbase Global Inc. register with the agency as securities exchanges akin to the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq. In May, the SEC nearly doubled the staff of an enforcement unit focused on cryptocurrencies.
—Paul Kiernan contributed to this article.
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