A new super PAC funded mostly by a young cryptocurrency billionaire is spending tens of millions of dollars on Democratic candidates running for Congress in hopes of creating a new caucus of pandemic experts in the House of Representatives.
The group, Protect Our Future PAC, has spent more than $22 million on candidates running in seven states, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.
So much spending by an outside group is hardly rare in the years after the US Supreme Court allowed the creation of super PACs. But rarely has a group so new on the scene spent so heavily in the primary season. Protect Our Future PAC has spent more this year than any other outside group in America, except the conservative Club for Growth, a group founded more than two decades ago.
All of the candidates Protect Our Future PAC backs are running in safe Democratic seats that are unlikely to change hands this November.
The group has spent nearly two-thirds of its money so far on behalf of Carrick Flynn, a first-time candidate running for a newly created seat in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It has also spent more than $1 million for Texas state Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D), North Carolina state Sen. Valerie Foushee (D) and Kentucky state Sen. Morgan McGarvey (D), all of whom are running for seats held by longtime Democratic incumbents who are retiring this year.
The PAC has picked sides in two more contentious races: It spent $1 million to help Rep. Shontel Black (D-Ohio) win a rematch against a progressive challenger, and it has already dropped $2 million on behalf of Rep. Lucy McBath (D -Ga.), who faces Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D) in a primary election after redistricting drew the two into the same seat.
The through line running between candidates, the PAC’s spokesman said, is an interest in preparing for the pandemic of the future. Flynn worked on pandemic preparedness at a philanthropy funded by a co-founder of Facebook; McGarvey and Foushee both make pandemic preparedness a key part of their platforms; McBath recently helped secure new funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in her backyard in Atlanta.
Several opponents of candidates benefitting from the PAC spending have tied the group to crypto currency because of its chief funder, Sam Bankman-Fried, a 30-year old billionaire who founded FTX, a crypto exchange platform. But sources who know Bankman-Fried say it is his brother, Gabe, is a former Capitol Hill staffer and Democratic donor advisor who now runs a preparedness group called Guarding Against Pandemics, who has driven the PAC’s mission.
“We think that having champions in Congress and having experts in pandemic prevention policy in Congress would increase the chances of legislation that would prevent future pandemics, including funding for President Biden’s pandemic prevention plan,” said Mike Levine, a California political strategist who serves as the group’s spokesman.
But the big spending has ranked Democratic activists backing other candidates in those primary elections.
“We have seen a larger influx of outside money from groups that don’t have interests in Durham than any congressional primary in North Carolina history,” Clay Aiken, the former American Idol star running against Foushee for a seat held by retiring Rep. David Price (D), told reporters this week. “We are the party that opposes dark money, and we are the party that is swimming in it right now.”
The outside money has also raised suspicions among some Democrats who are leery of the influence of big money in politics.
“Lucy McBath is being bankrolled by a cryptocurrency billionaire with a company chartered out of the Bahamas. Billionaires don’t spend millions of dollars in a member-on-member primary out of the goodness of their hearts. They do it because they want something,” said Titilayo Okuwa, Boudreaux’s campaign spokesperson. “The people of the 7th District know Carolyn cannot be bought or influenced by special interests.”
Levine said he understood the point of making an issue out of the PAC’s spending.
“Other candidates have decided that highlighting the source of wealth and spending is a potentially useful tactic in deflecting from the real issues. They want to win,” he said.
At the same time, Levine said Protect Our Future PAC had no plans as of yet to spend money ahead of November’s general election.
Democratic strategists said the big spending in a primary campaign is unusual, if not unprecedented.
“These are the rules that run campaigns these days. Your view on whether they’re good or bad probably depends on what side of the spending you’re on,” said Mark Nevins, a Philadelphia-based Democratic strategist. “The fact is, an effectively executed independent expenditure can have a major impact on the direction of a race.”
The PAC has largely used its money to introduce its favored candidates to voters. But in the week before Oregon voters cast their ballots, the group has turned negative, targeting state Rep. Andrea Salinas (D), Flynn’s most prominent rival.
FEC records show the group is spending more than $700,000 on last-minute digital and television advertisements against Salinas, twice the amount Salinas had raised for her entire campaign.
“Let’s be clear about what’s happening here: An out-of-state crypto-currency billionaire who has already spent over $10 million trying to buy this election for Carrick Flynn, an unqualified candidate who didn’t even vote for President Biden against Donald Trump , is now spending almost a million dollars fueling false attacks against me,” Salinas said in an email. “I know Sixth District voters want a progressive champion who has delivered on the issues that matter most to them, not a phantom candidate who is being propped up by an out-of-state billionaire.”
It is not lost on some Democratic activists that the PAC is spending heavily for a straight white male and against a prominent woman of color.
“Many of the candidates are persons of color,” Gustavo Guerrero, vice chairman of the Yamhill County Democratic Party, said in a recent interview. “If we believe that politically we’re all aiming toward the same goal and representation is such a large part of what we believe, then maybe one of those candidates should be the one to come forward.”
Several other candidates the PAC supports — Foushee, Crockett, Black and McBath, among others — are women of color.
“We’re not limiting ourselves to one part of the party or one part of the country or any particular demographic,” Levine said. “There are a number of champions throughout the country representing a diverse coalition in the Democratic Party both in terms of ideology and other descriptors, and the thinking is if there are more champions in Congress, that will increase the chances of good legislation.”