With a significant lead in the Democratic primary that will likely determine who represents Oregon’s newly created 6th District in the House, state Rep. Andrea Salinas appears headed for a comfortable victory over crypto-backed political newcomer Carrick Flynn, who has conceded to Salinas.
The race attracted national attention because of the insane amount of money spent by a single cryptocurrency-related interest group to support Flynn—a 35-year-old who grew up in the area but hadn’t lived there in a number of years and had demonstrated little previous interest in electoral politics.
That group, the Protect Our Future PAC, spent more than $11 million to promote Flynn, flooding the district with advertisements touting his life story. Per Andrew Mayersohn of Open Secrets, that is “several times the previous record for spending by a single group in a single House primary.” According to the ads and his campaign bio, Flynn’s family struggled economically while he was growing up, but he was able to attend the University of Oregon on scholarship before earning a degree from Yale Law School and working in the nonprofit sector on problems including pandemic preparedness.
The latter subject is what connected Flynn to Protect Our Future, which says its purpose is addressing long-term existential threats to humanity. The PAC is predominantly funded by a 30-year-old named Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of cryptocurrency exchange FTX. Bankman-Fried and Flynn are part of the “effective altruism” movement, a network of individuals who generally work at think tanks and in the financial industry and purport to empirically identify the areas in which a given donation or intervention can have the largest possible benefit. (Flynn said he does not know Sam Bankman-Fried but is friendly with his brother Gabe, who works on Sam’s philanthropic initiatives.)
As an investigation by Oregon Public Broadcasting last month laid out, Sam Bankman-Fried—who lives in the Bahamas—seems to have determined that having someone with Flynn’s level of interest in pandemics in Congress was a moral imperative, and therefore spent an enormous amount of money to support him via the aforementioned advertisements, which didn’t actually mention pandemics or explain what Protect Our Future is and why it supported Flynn.
If that sounds a bit presumptuous and condescending to you, it sounded especially so to the other candidates in the race—most prominently Salinas, a 51-year-old former Senate staffer who has served as a state representative since 2017. The Willamette Week alt-weekly also treated Flynn with particular skepticism, and was the first to report that despite having been registered to vote in Oregon since he was 18, he only actually voted in two elections, not including the most recent one between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, which was, for many Democrats, a pretty big deal, particularly as far as the issue of pandemic preparedness was concerned.
The sense that Salinas was being railroaded by outsiders became even stronger when the Democratic House Majority PAC also began spending to support Flynn. That PAC is often described as being “linked” to Nancy Pelosi—she’s raised money for it, and her former political director works there as a “senior adviser”—and its definitional purpose is to attain and protect a Democratic House majority. It rarely spends money on primaries, particularly those like OR-6 in which any potential winner would be expected to win their general election race and thus contribute to the creation of a “House majority” without requiring outside resources. (Voters in the district, which includes the city of Salem and parts of the Portland metro area, broke for Biden by a 14-point margin in 2020.)
None of the entities involved responded to other outlets’ questions about why a national Democratic-linked organization took this unusual step. One possibility is that it was an effort to cultivate Bankman-Fried, who spent more than $5 million to support Joe Biden in 2020 and is worth an estimated $12 billion, as a long-term pillar of Democratic fundraising.
Bankman-Fried has problems of his own, though, having lost around $10 billion on paper during the ongoing crypto crash. He also made headlines for a podcast appearance with Bloomberg finance writer Matt Levine in which he described one of his financial pursuits, “yield farming,” in a way that Levine summarized as “I’m in the Ponzi business.” Now he’s also vicariously lost a race for Congress. It’s been a tough month, really, for the notion that Sam Bankman-Fried is so good at figuring out where to put his money that he can help save humanity from extinction!
This post was updated to note Flynn’s concession.