In the history of American billionaires blowing large sums of cash on political campaigns, Michael Bloomberg stands out: The former New York City mayor spent $1 billion during his 100-day run in 2020 for the Democratic presidential nomination.
But that run cost him just over $500 for each vote he won. That’s a small fraction of what was just spent per vote in Oregon.
It pales in comparison to the lavish spending on the congressional candidacy of Carrick Flynn: The $14 million in expenditures on Flynn’s behalf translated to more than $1,200 per vote. The vast majority of that cash came from political action committees backed by the richest man in cryptocurrency, Sam Bankman-Fried. Bankman-Fried’s PAC spent more than $11 million on Flynn—who last week lost the Democratic Party nomination to state Rep. Andrea Salinas (D-Lake Oswego).
Flynn never campaigned in any traditional sense—failing to give key Democratic leaders a sense of who he was. He never tried to meet the mayor of Salem, the largest city in the district, for example (”Bitcoin Republic, WW, May 4). He alienated environmentalists, a key Democratic Party constituency, attacking efforts to preserve the northern spotted owl and professing “emotional” sympathy for Timber Unity, a group that blocked Oregon climate legislation.
Most voters encountered him only in a blanket of television advertising. And some observers see a backlash against the money itself.
“PACs can’t manufacture leadership,” says Robin Logsdon, campaign manager for Matt West. “You have to run a real campaign with a real candidate. Spending $14 million and getting HMP involved were moves that could only serve to make the election a referendum on Carrick—something the PAC should have known they didn’t want.”
Having failed to give Flynn a sizable lead, the super PAC misstepped at the end. Salinas ran a TV ad about abortion rights at the same moment the U.S. Supreme Court’s draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade leaked. Protect Our Future tried to counter with an ad telling the story of how Flynn’s late mother was forced into a care home when she became pregnant, and was abused.
It was an ineffective and confusing response—compounded by a last-gasp wave of attack ads against Salinas that failed to make a dent. On Tuesday, Flynn conceded: “I have deeply enjoyed the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with voters from all walks of life,” he said in a statement, “and I will approach the next chapter with renewed energy and optimism.”
Flynn wasn’t the only entrant in the Democratic primary for the 6th Congressional District to spend big. Two of his opponents, Cody Reynolds and Matt West, self-funded their campaigns with cryptocurrency fortunes—only to finish third and sixth, respectively. Here’s how much was spent on each candidate per vote they received, by their campaigns and the super PACs that backed them.
TOTAL SPENDING PER VOTE
Carrick Flynn: $1,217.05
Cody Reynolds: $366.60
Matt West: $198.03
Andrea Salinas: $100.80
Kathleen Harder: $79.91
Loretta Smith: $40.76
Teresa Alonso Leon had reported no expenditures as of April 27.
Source: Federal Election Commission