The Largest Outside Spending Group in a Single House primary

From a story by Theodore Schleifer at Puck (behind a paywall):

It was after 11 p.m. on Monday evening, and Sam Bankman-Fried was concocting some potato-pepper-onion fake meat stir-fry in his Bahamas kitchen while regaling me with the origin story of his admittedly longshot political effort to spend about $12 million of his own money to elect a totally unknown Democrat named Carrick Flynn to Congress. Truth be told, S.B.F. had never even met the guy, but that didn’t stop the crypto billionaire from launching a record-shattering super PAC effort, spending more than any single outside group ever in a single House primary race. The unusual plan was befitting S.B.F., the electrified hair, perma-shorts-wearing FTX founder whose Spock-like utilitarian philosophy of effective altruism—using data and experimental design to maximize positive change—has generated both money-hungry excitement and deep suspicion in Democratic circles.

The Flynn race could have been a turning point for the 30-year-old mega-donor. Last summer, S.B.F. and his brother, Gabe, embarked on an extraordinary individual lobbying push to convince Congress to spend big to study future epidemiological threats. That effort has basically failed to date: the reconciliation bill last year didn’t include anything close to the $30 billion they sought for the cause. When the monster legislation got deep-sixed by Joe Manchin anyway, the Bankman-Fried brothers and their brain trust regrouped to develop Plans B and C.

The strategy had two prongs. The first was to make an end-run around Washington by sponsoring a pandemic-prevention initiative in California that will appear on the fall ballot, thanks to $12 million in contributions from the Bankman-Frieds’ pandemic lobbying group (and a $9.5 million boost from the philanthropy of Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, another effective altruist mega-donor). The second was to elect just a few candidates who would prioritize their pet issue in Congress, above all the other things that lawmakers can focus on. So earlier this year, S.B.F., in conversations with Gabe and his political advisor Michael Sadowsky, decided to kickstart his own super PAC, Protect Our Future, with an initial $9 million donation in February, followed by $4 million more in March. The goal was to find candidates who would prioritize pandemic preparedness over everything else. 

The S.B.F. team ultimately identified and endorsed 20 candidates, some of whom won their primaries on Tuesday, but there were none more perfect or prioritized than Flynn, who had himself lobbied for the pandemic prevention measures in the reconciliation bill. Flynn would go so far as to say that pandemic preparedness was the core reason he ran for Congress. And priorities mattered to S.B.F. “Why isn’t there more attention being paid to pandemic preparedness right now?” S.B.F. told me on Monday. “It’s not because of the anti-pandemic preparedness lobby. It’s not because legislators sit there and say ‘Ah, fuck it. Let’s see what happens. No point in getting ready for it.’ There’s not a lot of active resistance to it. Instead, the default for everything is inaction.” 

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