It was after 11 p.m. on Monday evening, and Sam Bankman-Fried was concocting some potato-pepper-onion fake meat stir-fry in his Bahamas kitchen while regaling me with the origin story of his admittedly longshot political effort to spend about $12 million of his own money to elect a totally unknown Democrat named Carrick Flynn to Congress. Truth be told, S.B.F. had never even met the guy, but that didn’t stop the crypto billionaire from launching a record-shattering super PAC effort, spending more than any single outside group ever in a single House primary race. The unusual plan was befitting S.B.F., the electrified hair, perma-shorts-wearing FTX founder whose Spock-like utilitarian philosophy of effective altruism—using data and experimental design to maximize positive change—has generated both money-hungry excitement and deep suspicion in Democratic circles.
S.B.F., after all, had spent the past year engaged in perhaps the most ambitious political project from Silicon Valley, spending tens of millions of dollars to encourage Americans to adopt an eminently worthy, if somewhat esoteric, policy goal: preparing for the next pandemic. And yet by any objective measure, S.B.F. has been racking up losses—none more blatant than the one he registered on Tuesday night, when Flynn got clobbered in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for Congress in the southern exurbs of Portland, Oregon.
The Flynn race could have been a turning point for the 30-year-old mega-donor. Last summer, S.B.F. and his brother, Gabe, embarked on an extraordinary individual lobbying push to convince Congress to spend big to study future epidemiological threats. That effort has basically failed to date: the reconciliation bill last year didn’t include anything close to the $30 billion they sought for the cause. When the monster legislation got deep-sixed by Joe Manchin anyway, the Bankman-Fried brothers and their brain trust regrouped to develop Plans B and C.