Crypto Corruption: A Campaign Finance Cover-Up in Oregon

Like the notorious Anna Delvey, who came out of nowhere to seduce gullible New Yorkers, Carrick Flynn emerged from the ether in February 2022 to announce he was running in the Democratic primary for Oregon’s new Congressional District 6 seat. 

In the following months it came out that his biggest financial backer was a political action committee, Protect Our Future PAC, funded largely by a crypto billionaire, Sam Bankman-Fried, a 30-year-old American “Master of the Universe” who lives in the Bahamas. 

Then, late in the race, the Justice Unites Us PAC, which said it was all about mobilizing Asian voters, pumped $846,000 in independent expenditures Flynn’s campaign, a white guy if there ever was one. Justice Unites Us identified itself online as “A project of the Family Friendly Action Fund, a section 50©4) social welfare organization.”

“AAPI people are literally under attack,” says the PAC’s website. “We need to build political power and ensure our voices are heard in the political process.”

Who was behind the Justice Unites Us PAC? Oregon voters didn’t know. 

Like pop-up stores that show up during the Christmas holidays, the PAC only popped up on March 22, 2022 (FEC Committee ID #: C00810606). In its report to the FEC for the first quarter of 2022, the PAC reported raising and spending zero dollars. After the end of the quarter, it disclosed it had disbursed $846,581.14 on April 5, 2022 for “canvassing” in support of Flynn.

On April 15, 2022, the PAC filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission so it could delay filing its next report and identifying its donors, until after the May 17 primary:

Flynn lost the race, but only now do we learn that every single penny of  the money Justice United donated to Flynn’s campaign came from a donation Sam Bankman-Fried’s Protect Our Future PAC  made to Justice United.

Why Bankman-Fried felt this subterfuge was necessary is unclear, since he was already publicly identified as the man behind Protect Our Future. Whatever his reasons, it allowed his money to hide behind campaign finance reporting rules and prevented Oregonians from full knowledge of Flynn’s backers.

Supposedly, Flynn’s campaign was unaware of the subterfuge, just as supposedly, Protect Our Future didn’t coordinate with Flynn’s campaign in producing a barrage of radio, television and digital ads, lawn signs, direct mail, and get-out-the-vote phone calls.

Voters deserve better. 

A Tangled Web: Carrick Flynn and the Justice Unites Us PAC

Why has the Justice Unites Us PAC, which says it’s all about mobilizing Asian voters, pumped $846,000 in independent expenditures into boosting the Democratic primary campaign of a white guy, Carrick Flynn, in Oregon’s new 6th Congressional District. 

Not only that, but who has been plowing money into the PAC and how much?

Who knows.

Justice Unites Us identifies itself online as “A project of the Family Friendly Action Fund, a section 50©4) social welfare organization.”

As for why it’s embraced Carrick Flynn’s primary race, that’s a tough one. 

Is the 6th District heavily Asian? Nope.

It consists of Polk and Yamhill Counties, plus portions of Marion, Clackamas and Washington Counties. Most of the district is in Yamhill and Polk counties in terms of land area, but most of the population is in Washington and Marion counties. If the district had existed during  the 2020 presidential election, it would have gone 55.2% for Biden and 42.1% for Trump, according to Daily Kos. So, the new district probably leans Democratic.

But Asians are far from a prominent force in Oregon at large or in the new district. According to the most recent American Community Survey, the Asian population in all of Oregon is just 185,221, 4.4% of the total population. And they are far from a unified group, with multiple subgroups. Chinese, Filipino, and Indian are the largest. Furthermore, In the 2020 census, just 2.5% of Marion County’s population and -11.7% of Washington County’s population was “Asian alone”.

OK, then who’s behind the Justice Unites Us PAC? We don’t know. 

Like pop-up stores that show up during the Christmas holidays, the PAC only popped up recently. having been formed on March 22, 2022 (FEC Committee ID #: C00810606). In its report to the FEC for the first quarter of 2022, the PAC reported raising and spending zero dollars. 

After the end of the quarter, it disclosed it had disbursed $846,581.14 on April 5, 2022 for “canvassing” in support of Flynn.

Then, on April 15, 2022, the PAC filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission so it could delay filing its next report , and identifying its donors, until after the May 17 primary:

“Justice Unites Us PAC has filed its April 15th quarterly report.  This is to notify you that Justice Unites Us PAC intends to assume a monthly filing schedule for calendar year 2022.  It is therefore our understanding that the next report will be due May 20, 2022. “ 

Is this runaround of disclosure rules new? “No, it isn’t.,” Politico wrote recently. “Pop-up super PACs have become increasingly prominent over the last several election cycles, and have become a way for sophisticated political operations to bypass rules that shed light on campaign finance until after elections — when it’s too late to matter.”

Chasing The Money: The Democratic Primary in Oregon’s 6th Congressional District

Are direct campaign contributions going to be the determining factor in the Democratic primary for U.S. House Oregon District 6 on May 17, 2022? How about money from Oregonians? Will it be critical?

The campaign committees of the nine ambitious people running in the primary had raised a total of $4,821,322.84 according to reports just filed with the Federal Election Commission covering up to March 31, 2022. Reports were due on April 15, 2022.

If you just look at the campaign finance reports for the official campaign committees, Steven Cody Reynolds is far and away the strongest candidate.

The reported totals for each candidate are as follows:

Ricky Barajas: No data available

Carrick Flynn:  $830,185.45

Greg Goodwin: No data available

Kathleen Harder:  $137,259.28

Teresa Alonso Leon:  $67,704.00

Steven Cody Reynolds: $2,506,917.65 (Includes $2,000,006.00 in loans and $502,186.65 in contributions from the candidate)

Andrea Salinas: $178,195.00

Loretta Smith: $297,478.00

(Includes $60,000 in loans from the candidate)

Matt West: $803,583.46 (Includes $400,000.00 in loans and $47,878.16 in contributions from the candidate)

But this is far from the whole story. All this data obscures millions of dollars of so-called independent expenditures in support of individual candidates.  

An independent expenditure is a political campaign expenditure that expressly advocates for the election or defeat of a candidate that is not made in cooperation, consultation or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, a particular candidate, a candidate’s authorized committee  or the candidate’s party.

The Democrat’s House Majority PAC, the largest super PAC supporting Democratic House candidates, has already stepped up to support Carrick Flynn with a $1 million independent expenditure.

House Majority PAC television ad for Flynn

On top of that, Protect Our Future PAC, funded largely by Bahamas-based crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, has thrown its weight behind Flynn with about $6 million in expenditures on 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.

Flynn is also benefiting from other independent expenditures. An independent expenditure of about $800,000 was just committed by the Justice Unites Us super PAC, which says it wants to engage and mobilize progressive Asian-American voters.

“In Congress, Carrick Flynn will be the ally AAPI voters in his district deserve,” said Minh Nguyen, Executive Director of Justice Unites Us PAC. “He knows what it’s like to grow up poor and has spent his career helping others escape poverty, an experience that is sadly shared by too many AAPI families across America. We know his perspective will lead him to advocate for a government that looks out for our most vulnerable, and we are excited to support his candidacy with this historic investment.”

The National Wildlife Federation Action Fund also announced several days ago it was investing in Flynn and already has an ad running on television. “We need more champions for wildlife and #climate action in Congress, which is why we’re significantly investing in Carrick’s race to underscore his leadership and what’s at stake for people and wildlife alike,” it said on Facebook.

By the way, the Salem Statesman Journal reported on April 15 that Flynn’s  campaign committee filings show just 2.5% of his direct campaign committee support has come from Oregonians. That makes the independent expenditures coming from outside Oregon crucial to his campaign, a clear demonstration of how money can undermine faith in our democratic institutions…and an insult to Oregonians.

It also raises a legitimate question. If Flynn wins the primary and then the election, to whom will he owe his fealty? We’re deluded if we think that fealty will be to the common people of Oregon.