12 votes

The esoteric social movement behind this cycle’s most expensive House race


  1. top
    I'm in the Effective Altruism community, and I actually helped with this campaign over the weekend! This article is factually correct, but I'm disappointed by the author front-loading others'...

    I'm in the Effective Altruism community, and I actually helped with this campaign over the weekend!

    This article is factually correct, but I'm disappointed by the author front-loading others' concerns, since many people won't read the whole article to see the explanations at the end. We really are doing our best to help everyone out!

    5 votes
  2. skybrian
    From the article: [...] [...] [...] [...]

    From the article:

    [...] Flynn has had to contend not with deadly robots but with his own type of boogeyman: His largest donor, Sam Bankman-Fried, the eccentric 30-year-old cryptocurrency billionaire who is chief donor to a PAC that has given over $10 million to Flynn’s campaign.

    Bankman-Fried’s support for Flynn has baffled outside observers and energized Flynn’s opponents, who have cast the billionaire’s intervention as a shady effort by a carpetbagging crypto-baron to influence cryptocurrency regulation in Washington. In February, a rival campaign manager denounced Bankman-Fried as “a tax-dodging billionaire” with “no place in Oregon politics,” and predicted that “the people of the 6th District are not going to let [Bankman-Fried] buy a seat for his friend regardless of how much he spends.” (Flynn says he has never spoken to Bankman-Fried.) The local media have cast an equally skeptical eye, publishing articles with headlines like “How Oregon’s New Congressional District Could Become a Colony Ruled by a Distant Crypto Prince” and raising questions about Flynn’s political credentials.

    But this focus on Bankman-Fried’s background in crypto has obscured another — and even stranger — element of the billionaire’s support. Both Flynn and Bankman-Fried are adherents of a niche philosophy known as “effective altruism,” which advocates using quantitative analyses and evidence-based reasoning to maximize social good and mitigate long-term threats to humanity.

    According to members of the effective altruism community, Flynn’s campaign is only the most visible part of a broader effort to grow effective altruism’s political footprint in Washington. In recent years, a collection of individual effective altruist and effective-altruism-aligned organizations have been spending big to build out a network of advocacy groups and think tanks focused on translating effective altruism’s philosophical principles into policy — principally in the areas of biosecurity, pandemic prevention and emerging technology policy. This effort marks the movement’s first major effort to expand effective altruism’s reach beyond philanthropy — where it has championed some counterintuitive ideas about charitable giving — into the messy and pragmatic arena of politics.


    From his job at Georgetown, Flynn had a front-row seat to the political inaction. In early 2021, Flynn helped draft a report that included a plan for $65.3 billion in new federal investments to prevent future pandemics. The White House published the report in a slightly modified form in September of 2021 as its 27-page American Pandemic Preparedness Plan.

    When Flynn and his colleagues took the plan to Congress, though, they were met with stony indifference.

    “I remember one staffer, he asked me, ‘Yeah, sure, it sounds fine, I guess. But do they make any of this PPE in my district?’ And I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know. … But I do know that you lost well over a thousand people just in your district,’” Flynn recalls. “They just sort of lost track of the thread or something.”

    A few months later, Flynn, who had moved back to Oregon with his wife during the pandemic, decided to launch his congressional campaign.


    Flynn, who has also won the backing of the House Majority PAC, says he was only peripherally aware of Bankman-Fried before entering the race.

    “I knew about him as a person who made a ton of money doing crypto stuff as part of an earning-to-give thing,” says Flynn, who says he has never met or spoken to Bankman-Fried. “I mostly knew that as an interesting novelty — like ‘Wow, that’s weird.’”


    True to the effective altruist credo, Bankman-Fried has publicly pledged to give away 99 percent of his wealth in his lifetime, and he reportedly donated upward of $50 million to various causes in 2021, according to Bloomberg. Within the EA community, Bankman-Fried has taken some unorthodox positions about how large-dollar philanthropists should spend their money. In particular, he has been critical of EA’s hesitancy to spend big on politics and policy, a tendency he ascribes to EAs’ preferences for causes that guarantee tangible and easily quantifiable benefits, like anti-malaria beds and antiworming pills.


    To get meaningful things done, Flynn says he plans to use a strategy drawn directly from effective altruism’s playbook: focus on policy issues that are important, tractable and neglected. As Flynn explained, members of the EA community use these three criteria — known as the “ITN framework” — to decide which causes would benefit from more resources. From an EA’s perspective, the most investment-worthy causes meet all three of these criteria: They present a readily available solution, solving them would do a significant amount of good, and they haven’t attracted significant prior investments.

    2 votes