A powerful super PAC controlled by allies of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has endorsed a relatively unknown Democratic candidate in a competitive Oregon primary, sparking Democratic lawmakers’ concerns that the super PAC is distorting a race with big money and overlooking qualified Latina contenders.
The House Majority PAC purchased $1 million in television ads supporting Carrick Flynn, a technology and disaster preparedness specialist seeking the Democratic nomination in Oregon’s newly formed 6th Congressional District.
Critics are wary of the House Majority PAC’s motive for endorsing Flynn, a first-time candidate who already enjoys the support of another super PAC funded by a cryptocurrency billionaire. They are also calling out the House Majority PAC for siding against two candidates who would be the first Latinas to represent Oregon in Congress and for wasting resources on an internal Democratic battle during a critical midterm election.
All six of Flynn’s primary opponents — state Rep. Andrea Salinas, state Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, physician Kathleen Harder, former Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, cryptocurrency investor Cody Reynolds, and cryptocurrency developer Matt West — issued a joint statement on Tuesday calling the ad buy “unprecedented” and “inappropriate.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who has not endorsed in the race, tweeted that the House Majority PAC’s intervention was “flat-out wrong.”
The super PAC’s support for Flynn is especially disappointing to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s BOLD PAC, which has endorsed Salinas. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), the chair of BOLD PAC, and Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), president of BOLD PAC, noted that the population of Oregon’s 6th is more than one-fifth Latino.
“Right now, Democrats should be doubling-down on their investments to empower Latino and Latina candidates like Andrea who are running strong campaigns focused on issues that matter to communities of color and working families,” Garcia and Gallego said in a statement.
Although Democrats are at high risk of losing the House in November, Oregon’s 6th, which includes Salem and some Portland exurbs, is not exactly a ripe target for Republicans. President Joe Biden would have won the new district by 13 percentage points.
C.J. Warnke, a spokesperson for the House Majority PAC, nonetheless cited electability as the group’s top reason for backing Flynn.
“House Majority PAC is dedicated to doing whatever it takes to secure a Democratic House Majority in 2022, and we believe supporting Carrick Flynn is a step towards accomplishing that goal,” Warnke said in a statement.
The dustup in Oregon’s 6th, where voters will select a Democratic nominee on May 17, shines a national light on the influx of campaign money from the country’s newly minted class of cryptocurrency millionaires and billionaires.
Much of Flynn’s financial backing comes from 30-year-old Sam Bankman-Fried, who founded a cryptocurrency exchange in 2019 and is now worth tens of billions of dollars. Bankman-Fried was one of the largest donors to Biden’s presidential campaign in 2020.
Bankman-Fried’s super PAC, Protect Our Future, has spent nearly $5 million supporting Flynn. The group previously endorsed Texas state Rep. Jasmine Crockett, a progressive favorite, in a primary to succeed retiring Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) in Texas’ 30th Congressional District. With the super PAC’s help, Crockett easily led the first round of voting and is the front-runner in the May 24 runoff.
Campaign activity by cryptocurrency investors, developers and entrepreneurs is ticking up as some industry players — and their champions in Congress — press the Securities and Exchange Commission for less stringent regulatory enforcement.
Bankman-Fried has cut something of a different profile, calling, at least, for greater regulation.
His political involvement is motivated instead, he says, by “effective altruism” — a form of quantitative, high-impact philanthropy that has developed a cult following among some technologists.
Bankman-Fried and his younger brother Gabriel — both devotees of “effective altruism” — have identified funding federal pandemic preparedness as a top priority for maximizing global well-being.
The elder Bankman-Fried has recruited Democratic data scientist and pollster Michael Sadowsky to orchestrate Protect Our Future’s political strategy.
Sadowsky is a former employee of David Shor, another prominent Democratic data scientist and pollster, who is also backing Flynn.
“I knew these people when they had no money,” Shor said of Bankman-Fried and his fellow pandemic preparedness crusaders. “They really were genuinely obsessed with preventing pandemics.”
Flynn does not mention cryptocurrency on his website but does include a section on funding pandemic preparedness.
Avital Balwit, Flynn’s campaign manager, welcomed the super PAC support as evidence that Flynn’s message is “clearly resonating, not only here in the 6th district, but with national advocates for pandemic preparedness, equity and voter engagement, and Democratic leaders across the nation.”
But critics of the House Majority PAC endorsement are suspicious of Bankman-Fried’s motives — and the House Majority PAC’s. In an interview with HuffPost, Salinas, the apparent consensus pick of labor unions, environmental groups and progressive organizations, implied that Bankman-Fried might be financing the House Majority PAC’s investment in the race.
“Why is this happening and where is this money coming from?” Salinas asked.
“Sam has not been quiet about his goal to influence Washington, D.C., when it comes to the cryptocurrency industry,” she added. “So one could make a connection there.”
But Salinas’ work as a lobbyist for the firm Strategies 360 prior to entering the state legislature has given other figures pause about her progressive credentials.
A national Democratic strategist affiliated with a Latino group, who is considering endorsing Leon and asked for anonymity for professional reasons, said that Salinas’ lobbying work has “really kind of pushed us away from her a little bit.”
Public disclosure data show that Salinas, who was Oregon vice president of the firm, represented the pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts and TransAlta, a company that owned a coal power plant, before the legislature in 2014 and 2015.
Shannon Geison, Salinas’ campaign manager, told HuffPost that Salinas’ client listings in official disclosure data were mistaken.
“When Rep. Salinas first started at Strategies 360, her name was erroneously placed on some client lists she was not actually working on,” Geison said in a statement. “To be clear: Andrea never advocated for ExpressScripts or TransAlta.”
“Additionally, as an Oregon VP of Strategies 360, Andrea did not share in any profits that came from the firm’s relationship with TransAlta,” she added.