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. 

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.

Carrick Flynn’s Conundrum: With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

Carrick Ronan Morgan Flynn, who came out of nowhere in Oregon politics, hopes to outrun a primary field of Democrats seeking election to Oregon’s new Congressional District 6 seat created as a result of the 2020 census.

His television radio and digital ads, lawn signs, direct mail, and get-out-the-vote phone calls have been ubiquitous, helping propel him to high name recognition. Most of that activity has been paid for with multimillion donations from his presumed friends, a crypto currencies pacesetter, Sam Bankman-Fried, and the national Democrat’s House Majority PAC, which recently made a $1 million donation. 

“The independent expenditure campaign gives Flynn an outsized advantage in the race to be the Democratic nominee in the new district, which draws most of its voters from Marion County,” observed Willamette Week on April 10. 

The problem is the independent expenditure campaign has also majorly pissed off Flynn’s primary opponents, many with much stronger Oregon ties, exposed him to rebukes by multiple Democratic-associated interest groups and raised questions about backdoor dealings at the national level.

The House Majority PAC’s intervention is particularly mad because it was so unnecessary. Protect Our Future, backed by a man with an almost bottomless pot of money, has already shown it is willing to invest vast sums in Carrick’s race. 

Six of the nine Democrats seeking to win the Democratic primary rapidly issued a statement denouncing the House Majority PAC’s donation to Flynn. “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.”

The PAC’s endorsement of Flynn probably didn’t help the party with Black Oregonians either. 

Loretta Smith, a Black woman and one of the primary candidates, has said she feels betrayed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the PAC’s support for Flynn,. “I think it’s disrespectful and it’s wrong,” Smith said.

Adding to the pique of the other primary candidates, some of the Democrats’ most dependable constituencies objected to the House Majority PAC’s support for Flynn.

On April 11, CHC Bold PAC , a Democratic-aligned political action committee supporting the election of Hispanic Democrats to Congress, condemned the House Majority PAC’s donation to Flynn with a reminder that Latina women have been critical to Democratic victories and the PAC’s support for Flynn ignored the fact a highly qualified Latina, Andrea Salinas, was in the primary battle. 

“HMP is tasked with defending the House Majority by boosting Democrats and holding Republicans accountable, not with spending critical resources against a woman who has spent decades fighting for progressive causes and who will excite Democratic voters in November,” the statement said. 

Withering criticism also came from Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia (TX-29 ). “At a time when reproductive rights are at stake, Democrats should be moving mountains to ensure that there are more women at the table – especially women of color – instead of actively trying to tip the scales against an exceptionally experienced Latina. That is precisely what House Majority PAC has done,” Garcia said. 

So much for friends who are just trying to help.

——-

I have no trouble with my enemies. I can take care of my enemies in a fight. But my friends, my goddamned friends, they’re the ones who keep me walking the floor at nights!

Warren G. Harding

Carrick Flynn: Oregon’s Crypto Candidate

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.

Carrick Flynn
Source: Northwest Observer

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. 

Sam Bankman-Fried
(Source: New York Magazine)

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.