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. 

‘Tis a Puzzlement: Deciphering Carrick Flynn

A political unknown in Oregon not long ago, Carrick Ronan Morgan Flynn burst on the scene when he announced on Feb.1, 2022, he was running in the Democratic primary for Oregon’s new Congressional District 6 seat.

From that point forward his persona has been defined primarily by a barrage of television advertisements paid for largely by a political action committee, Protect Our Future PAC. The PAC is funded largely by a crypto billionaire, Sam Bankman-Fried, a 30-year-old American “Master of the Universe” who lives in the Bahamas. 

The ads, including his first on Feb. 1, are largely slick campaign messages, delivering party and poll-tested messages and portraying his life to date as sort of a Horatio Alger story of hard work and achievement succeeding against challenging odds. 

But with only a few days left until the May 17 primary, and some ballots already cast, who is Flynn?

There’s a well-worn Washington saying, “The most dangerous place in Washington is between New York Senator Chuck Schumer and a TV camera,” portraying him as is a ham, a publicity hound, a quote machine. 

That doesn’t seem to be Flynn’s style.

He also tends to avoid the quick sound bite, seeming to enjoy an intellectual debate, even when it would be more to his advantage to be brief or shift the subject.

Only 35-years old, the baby-faced political neophyte recites his brief pre-packaged campaign messages fluently and in a practiced manner in his television spots. If anything, he comes across a little stiff, like he’s still learning how to appear sincere on camera instead of like a character in Madame Tussauds wax museum. 

Which I better, I guess, than Bo Hines, a Trump-backed 26-year-old former college football recruit often compared to Representative Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina. Hines is running for a U.S. House seat in North Carolina. As with Oregon, the primary vote is on May 17. In 2005, long before he could even vote, when he asked about his goals he responded, “Governor of North Carolina, and the ultimate goal would be president.” No humility there.

It may be too late to really figure out Flynn before the the May 17 primary vote, but I recently listened in full to a 49-minute Oregon Bridge podcast interview he did on April 13, 2022, that sheds more light on his thinking. 

In the podcast he is exposed as sort of an odd duck, more expansive and more real than in his television ads. A fan of the brief anecdote he is not. His rapid-fire delivery would have challenged any note-taking reporter trying to keep up.

He talked freely about re-energizing the economies of small towns, the opportunities presented by more work-at-home jobs, reshoring, the danger of the United States being too dependent on Taiwan for microprocessor production, bringing more small manufacturing work, such as medical manufacturing, back to the US, the benefits of free trade and more. 

Flynn also said he favors drug decriminalization (Putting people in jail and prison for drugs “is a huge waste”), marijuana legalization (“It’s pretty innocuous as a substance.”) and the relaxation of zoning ordinances to spur the construction of more housing stock. (“Some people think you need an enormous amount of money to build more public housing. No, you actually don’t. You really just need to rezone.”)

A lover of the sound bite and the brief anecdote he is not. Instead, he comes across as intensely curious and thoughtful as he ruminates about various topics. But that openness can trip him up, as other politicians who have mistakenly told the truth have discovered to their chagrin.

In the Oregon Bridge podcast, right at the start Flynn professed no initial ambition for elective office.  “It was not my idea,” he said. “I had, I think, five or six friends, independently of one another, tell me I had to run.” There’s some political wisdom in this comment because it serves to downplay any raw ambition on Flynn’s part,

At the same time, it strains credulity a bit to think he jumped into the race with no clear source of financial backing, particularly when the race featured some other much better-known opponents with deep Oregon roots and/or pots of money.

The Protect Our Future PAC came to his rescue with millions in spending 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.

True, the Carrick Flynn for Oregon campaign committee had also raised $910,100.43 as of April 27, 2022, according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), but I doubt Flynn would have broken through as he has without the jump-start from Protect Our Future.

The Oregon Bridge podcast also revealed another aspect of Flynn, a tendency to say too much.

A review of a book about fashion maven Anna Wintour told of how, when asked by then long-time Vogue editor Grace Mirabella what job she would eventually like to have at the magazine, Winter replied simply, “Yours.”  No such direct, concise answer to a question would likely come from Flynn.  

For example, asked to comment on the complexities of timber politics in Oregon, and the social problems that arose in timber-dependent communities because of spotted owl restrictions, Flynn offered a lengthy response:

“I grew up in the spotted owl days and it was terrible,” he said. “I think there is a part of me that still feels indignant or angry. The notion that you have these people in the city who are ‘Hey look, there’s an owl. Isn’t it cool? We’re going to destroy all of your livelihoods in your community because we like this owl.’ Well, wait, can we talk about it? No.” 

More thought should have been given to how to keep the owls alive and keep logging sustainable, Carrick said.  

Was placement of the spotted owl on the endangered species list a mistake? “I think the process and how it played out was terrible and the dialogue around it was really bad,” Flynn said, even if the spotted owl probably belonged on the list. Moreover, before something is put on the endangered list, the economic repercussions of the action need to be considered and minimized, he said. 

You might think his views on the spotted owl/timber issue are open-minded and balanced, but in the black-and-white world of much of today’s politics, his remarks outraged some environmental groups 

“We are stunned and deeply saddened to hear Carrick Flynn, a Democratic candidate running for Congress, make comments mocking critical environmental protections… and referring to our state’s iconic land use system as ‘insane,’” said a statement signed by the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Oregon Wild Conservation Leaders Fund, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Renew Oregon Action Fund and RiverPAC of Oregon. 

“Flynn’s comments are far out of step from the values of Oregonians, who care deeply about protecting our natural legacy,” they wrote, saying Flynn’s comments were “disturbing.”

Left unsaid was that the Oregon League of Conservation Voters and  Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste had previously endorsed one of Flynn’s opponents, state Rep. Andrea Salinas, in the 6th District primary,

In an effort to recover, Flynn ‘s campaign manager Avital Balwit told Willamette Week that Flynn “… simply meant to express empathy with working families whose livelihoods have been disrupted,” but the damage was done. 

The fact is Flynn’s background is more that of a policy wonk/academic vagabond. As a Research Affiliate with the Future of Humanity Institute, he co-wrote “Policy Desiderata in the Development of Machine Superintelligence,” and as a Research Fellow at Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), he co-wrote “Multilateral Controls on Hardware Chokepoints.” Not exactly political fodder.

In many respects, Flynn seems better suited to a Washington, DC think tank conference room than the cramped office of a freshman congressman on Capitol Hill. We’ll see on May 17 what Democratic voters think.

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: 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.