Top executives at FTX, a major digital currency trading platform, are financing a high-priced communications war on behalf of Carrick Flynn, who hopes to outrun a primary field of Democrats seeking election to Oregon’s new Congressional District 6 seat. The primary will be held on May 17, 2022.
If Flynn wins the primary he will owe his win lock, stock, and barrel to wealthy crypto supporters.
Is this how we want our political campaigns to be financed? Do Oregonians really want candidates to be captured by special interests, particularly so early in the political process? And in this case, are we OK with the capturers being major players in the controversial and risky business of cryptocurrencies?
If you’ve paid attention to the plethora of television campaign ads already running in the Democratic primary race, you’ve noticed that the ones by the other candidates note at the end “paid for by” the candidates campaign committee. In Carrick Flynn’s case, most have said “Paid for by Protect Our Future PAC”.
The major backer of the PAC is FTX founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, a 30-year-old American “Master of the Universe” billionaire who lives in the Bahamas.
FTX is incorporated in Antigua and Barbuda and headquartered in the Bahamas. The company officially opened its doors for trading in May of 2019. It enables trades of a variety of digital assets, such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Solana and Dogecoin.
Super PACs cannot legally coordinate with candidates, but many candidates find creative ways to work in concert with them that stretch the legal boundaries.
According to data filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), as of April 11, 2022, Protect Our Future had made independent expenditures in support of Flynn totaling $4,932,464.73 in 2022. The expenditures have been devoted to a wide range of activities, including radio, television and digital ad production and time purchases, lawn signs, direct mail, and get-out-the-vote phone calls.
On April 12, 2022, OPB reported that a political action committee affiliated with national Democrats, the House Majority PAC, had also purchased roughly $1 million of ads to help Flynn. The PAC’s television ads are already appearing.
Six of the nine Democrats seeking to win the primary put out a statement denouncing the move. “We strongly condemn House Majority PAC’s unprecedented and inappropriate decision…” the joint statement said. “We call on House Majority PAC to actually stand by our party’s values and let the voters of Oregon decide who their Democratic nominee will be.”
Interestingly, some of the money Flynn received from the House Majority PAC could be considered as a pass-through from Bankman-Fried. According to OpenSecrets,a research and government transparency group tracking money in politics and its effect on elections and policy, Bankman-Fried has also made substantial donations to the House Majority PAC.
It’s not hard to decipher Flynn’s potential appeal. He’s a climber with a hard luck story about his youth and a touch-all-the-bases career of prestige academic success at Yale Law School and international social justice-oriented work.* But to really pop in Oregon’s political world, he needed money, and FTX has given him a jump start.
“…the company’s executives are quietly emerging as crypto kingmakers in the nation’s capital as they spend millions to launch super PACs, bankroll congressional campaigns and recruit former government officials with an inside track on looming crypto regulations,” Politico observed in February. In other words, the “Our” in Protect Our Future most likely means the crypto industry.
Down the road, FTX may also have other interests that could bring into play a need for political support. The Generalist, a tech-focused weekly online publication, has speculated that the company may try to grow its footprint in sports betting, banking and social media. In this regard, Bankman-Fried has openly talked about his desire to build out a fully-fledged financial giant, a kind of monetary super-app handling payments, custody, and of course, investing across asset classes.
If Flynn wins the primary** and the election, will he be indebted to FTX’s interests as much as to Oregon’s. It’s damn hard not to think otherwise.
*Flynn’s efforts to position himself as a true Oregonian resemble Nicholas Kristoff’s efforts to do the same in his failed quest to become Oregon’s governor. Flynn, 35, was born in Oregon, grew up here and graduated from the University of Oregon in 2008, but he has spent a substantial part of his adult life elsewhere, much of that overseas:
· 2009: Legal Clerk, The Carter Center, Monrovia, Liberia
· 2010: Legal Consultant, The Asia Foundation, Dili, Timor-Leste
· 2011: Volunteer, Volunteer, Progressio UK, Dili, Timor-Leste
· 2011-2012: Program Associate / Legal Consultant, The Asia Foundation, Dili, Timor-Leste
· 2013-14: Bernstein Human Rights Fellow, New Delhi Area, India
· 2014: Bernstein Human Rights Fellow, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
· 2015: Lecturer, Jimma University, Jimma, Ethiopia
· 2015-2018: Assistant Director, Center for the Governance of AI (GovAI), Oxford, England, United Kingdom
· 2018-2022: Research Faculty, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.