A bitcoin billionaire is funding two commercials now airing in the Portland TV market.
One of them is an ad for the cryptocurrency exchange FTX and stars comedian Larry David. He journeys through history rejecting good ideas—including the signing of the Declaration of Independence. When he’s told people have the right to vote, David recoils: “Even the stupid ones?”
The other ad is for Carrick Flynn, a 35-year-old candidate for Oregon’s newest congressional seat. “He’s out there looking out for all of us,” Tualatin Mayor Frank Bubenik says in the ad while Flynn smiles silently. (Under federal law, Flynn’s not allowed to speak because an outside group is spending unlimited sums on the ads.)
Sam Bankman-Fried, who lives in the Bahamas, helped fund both ads. And the $8.6 million a PAC backed by Bankman-Fried has spent on the 6th Congressional District race is the largest independent expenditure in any primary in the nation. It’s vaulted Flynn to a lead in the polls over six other candidates seeking the Democratic Party nomination on May 17.
In 2020, for the first time in 40 years, Oregon gained enough people in the U.S. census to qualify for a new congressional seat, running southwest from the Cabela’s in Bridgeport Village over Willamette Valley wine country. That’s mostly suburbs and farms—a place where Democrats hold an edge, but only by 7 percentage points.
Carrick Flynn is a local boy who rose from a family struggling with homelessness to attend Yale Law School and take jobs at a series of think tanks: He consulted on the pandemic strategy developed for the Biden administration, and for Open Philanthropy, a foundation backed by a Facebook fortune.
Flynn grew up in Vernonia. But to hear people in the district talk, he might as well have landed from Mars.
“Who is this guy? I still don’t know, and I’m mayor of the largest city in the district,” says Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett. “He’s not made any contact with me. As far as I know, he has never been to Salem. Frankly, I found it a little disturbing.”
“This gentleman, who’s funding him in the Caribbean? I don’t know if I’m going to see him at my local watering hole,” says Ramsey McPhillips, a Yamhill County farmer who sits on the boards of four local nonprofits. “He just has something to do with the blockchain.”
Of Flynn, McPhillips adds: “People out here call him Mr. Creepy Funds.’”
“Does it still matter to you, Oregon, to have a member of Congress who’s dialed into the community in a deep way, has spent the time to get to know it?” asks Jon Isaacs, a longtime Oregon political professional who has managed congressional campaigns. “Or are we just going to vote for any random person who has one friend who has unlimited resources?”
WW wondered how a district that was supposed to give Oregonians greater representation was poised to become a colony for an idealistic billionaire with business interests before Congress.
We spoke to political insiders about the new strategies being used in the 6th District. We found that Flynn wasn’t the first candidate in this contest to benefit from cryptocurrency for a leg up on the competition.
And we talked to people closely involved with local politics—people who, in a typical election, would play a role in deciding who goes to Congress. We asked them when they first heard of Flynn, and what they’d like to say to him now.
Flynn has proven difficult to reach. He decided not to show up in person for WW’s endorsement interview, blaming an exposure to the coronavirus—but he also declined to join via Zoom. For the next two weeks, WW made repeated requests to speak with him.
On May 1, two days before we went to press, the Flynn campaign consented to give us 25 minutes with the candidate himself. Finally, we could ask what so many in his district wonder: What are you doing here?