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Young crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried pours millions into effective altruist running for Congress in Oregon

In the crowded primary for the newly created 6th Congressional District in Oregon, first-time candidate Carrick Flynn has attracted over three times as much outside spending as any other House candidate this year. 

The lion's share, over $10 million, came from the super PAC Protect Our Future, established by 30-year-old crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of crytpocurrency trading platform FTX.

Changing Market Roles: The FTX Proposal and Trends in New Clearinghouse Models
Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO of FTX US Derivatives, testifies during the House Agriculture Committee hearing titled Changing Market Roles: The FTX Proposal and Trends in New Clearinghouse Models, in Longworth Building on Thursday, May 12, 2022.  Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Flynn and Bankman-Fried are both members of a philosophical movement known as effective altruism — as part of a network of researchers and philanthropists, they're dedicated to working on the truly big threats to the future of the human race: pandemics, climate change and nuclear weapons, for instance.

According to his campaign, Flynn has never met the crypto billionaire, but he did tell local outlets that he has interacted with Bankman-Fried's brother. Bankman-Fried says he's investing in Flynn because of his experience studying pandemic prevention, according to The New York Times.

Flynn researched pandemic preparedness in Oxford and was also a co-founder of the Center for the Governance of AI (Artificial Intelligence) there. Pandemic prevention funding is his highest priority. He told Oregon media that he entered the race after laboring over a plan to prevent future pandemics that was ultimately omitted from the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Oregon congressional candidate Carrick Flynn.  Flynn campaign via Facebook

Betting that a message of addressing long-term threats like pandemics will resonate with voters both eager to leave COVID behind and facing the present threat of high inflation is no doubt risky. But Flynn's campaign manager, Avital Balwit, said in a statement, "We have certainly had a strong response to our core messages of pandemic preparedness, climate action, and an economy that works for all."

However, Pacific University of Oregon political scientist Jim Moore is not seeing the "strong response."

"This is a low turnout election, and so, that tells me that whatever message Flynn or the PACS have been trying to get across about Flynn hasn't been working because it's not energizing voters," Moore said. "We're looking at a possible record-low turnout in Oregon."

FILE: Oregon state Rep. Andreas Salinas, candidate for Congress. Andreas Salinas campaign

According to recent polling, state Rep. Andreas Salinas is running a little ahead of Flynn. Salinas has the backing of BOLD PAC, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus' campaign arm and would be the first Latina to represent Oregon in Congress, if elected. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's House Majority PAC has backed Flynn, to the ire of progressives and Latino groups backing Salinas. 

If Flynn does pull out a primary win, he could be the first effective altruist in Congress, and effective altruists are playing a very long game. Their "30,000-foot perspective" takes an exponentially lengthier view. One essay associated with the movement calculates that if the human species lasts as long as the average mammalian species, around 100 trillion more of us could live and die over the next 800,000 years. Some members are debating what the "foundations for space governance" should entail — not exactly topping any issues polls with voters anywhere.

Bankman-Fried was practically born into this realm of thought; his parents are both Stanford law professors with an interest in utilitarianism. He went to MIT, and at the beginning of his career, he worked at the Centre for Effective Altruism. By the time Bankman-Fried celebrated his 30th birthday, he had built a crypto exchange with a multi-billion market capitalization. This year, Bankman-Fried publicly pledged to give away 99% of his wealth, and he appears to be living comfortably, though modestly for someone with more than 10-figures to his name. He drives a Toyota Corolla and commonly sleeps on a beanbag chair in his office in the Bahamas. 

But he's down a few billion these days after cryptocurrencies nosedived in recent days; Bloomberg's Billionaire Index estimates his net worth has been cut in half since the end of March and sits at around $12 billion today.

Last week, Bankman-Fried testified on the Hill to try to make the case for favorable crypto regulations before Congress. Flynn told an Oregon political podcast that he has no prior interest or current opinions on cryptocurrency regulation, and Bankman-Fried has denied his interest in Oregon's 6th District has anything to do with crypto. 

Bankman-Fried has argued that more effective altruists should steer themselves toward making a positive impact on U.S. policy and he was one of the top two contributors to Biden's campaign in 2020, just behind fellow billionaire Michael Bloomberg. This April, when he appeared on a podcast that's big among effective altruism devotees, he was bullish about the power of outside spending in primaries: "The amounts spent in primaries are small. If you have an opinion there, you can have impact." 

Aaron Navarro contributed to this report.

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