Murmurs: Cryptocurrency Billionaire Spends Big on Oregon Politics

In other news: Psilocybin board considers conflicts.

Jeffrey Henry opened a data center in Bend, renting out space to both Bitcoin miners and government agencies. (Christine Dong)

CRYPTO BILLIONAIRE SPENDS BIG ON OREGON POLITICS: Protect Our Future, a political action committee funded by cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, has bought more than $420,000 in TV ads for the last week of February and the first week of March, supporting the candidacy of political newcomer Carrick Flynn for Oregon’s new congressional seat. It’s early in the primary for such a significant TV buy—and could lead to record spending for a congressional seat if that pace continues. Bankman-Fried made his fortune with the Bahamas-based cryptocurrency exchange FTX, which sells Bitcoin, and he is seeking to influence federal regulation of virtual money, Politico reported earlier this month. (It did not report the new spending in Oregon.) “A tax-dodging billionaire in the Bahamas has no place in Oregon politics,” says Robin Logsdon, a campaign manager for Intel engineer Matt West, another candidate for Oregon’s 6th Congressional District. “I don’t think the people of the 6th District are going to let him buy a seat for his friend regardless of how much he spends.” Carrick campaign manager Avital Balwit disputes the idea the candidate is friends with the billionaire: “Carrick has never met or talked to Sam Bankman-Fried.” A representative of Protect Our Future PAC did not return calls seeking comment.

PSILOCYBIN BOARD CONSIDERS CONFLICTS: The Oregon Psilocybin Advisory Board is considering adding conflict-of-interest disclosure requirements to its bylaws. During its monthly meeting Feb. 23, the board will discuss two proposed amendments: one that would require members of the board and its subcommittees to disclose conflicts of interest more generally, and another that specifically states board members must disclose financial, business and employment conflicts. The proposed amendments follow WW’s cover story last week (“Business Trip,” Feb. 16), which raised questions about board members who have established or plan to operate businesses in the psilocybin industry, for which they are crafting rules and stand to profit from. At least two board members have formed LLCs related to psilocybin use. If adopted, the amendments would expand current conflict language in the bylaws, which state that “members will adhere to the highest standards of ethical conduct and will be responsible for understanding and acting in accordance with the provisions of [Oregon law], including the code of ethics.”

GONZALEZ CONFLATES PORTLAND CAMPSITES: A Feb. 15 campaign email from City Council candidate Rene Gonzalez solicited contributions by using a photo showing trash and remnants of tents strewn about an entire block of Portland’s South Waterfront. In the email, the challenger to Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty pledged he would “clean up our city.” Gonzalez described a dire scene: “Homelessness and littered streets have spiraled out of control under Joann [sic] Hardesty’s watch,” he wrote. There’s just one problem: The photo, which appears to have first run in The Oregonian in July 2018, depicts a protest blockade that formed around a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office on the South Waterfront, not a homeless camp. The trash-strewn street was the aftermath of a police raid on the protest camp. Gonzalez campaign manager Shah Smith says it was not aware of the photo’s context. “It has been removed from our stock and was definitely included in error,” Smith says. “The difference in context is important, and matters.”

INVESTMENT COUNCIL SEES TURNOVER: The five-member Oregon Investment Council, which oversees more than $130 billion in state pension and other investments, is experiencing unusual turnover. Charles Wilhoite, whom Gov. Kate Brown appointed to the council last March, resigned Dec. 31, saying new ownership of the consulting firm where he works left him with insufficient time for the OIC and the state Housing Stability Council, on which he also served. Another OIC member, Monica Enand, is expected to step down in May, an Oregon State Treasury spokeswoman said. Enand could not be reached for comment. Spots on the OIC are coveted but hard to fill because they require expertise that’s difficult to find in Oregon’s relatively small finance industry. But the departures will ease one point of tension: Both Wilhoite and Enand also serve on the board of NW Natural, the state’s leading fossil fuel company. In December, three Democratic state lawmakers joined climate activists in urging the OIC to divest itself of nearly $2 billion in fossil fuel investments.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.