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TLDR; The Effective Altruism-linked political fund, Protect Our Future, has come under scrutiny for perceived cryptocurrency lobbying. Skip to section Irregularities to see the findings of my investigation into the group. 

Background

The effective altruism movement has become increasingly interested and involved in politics. A major vehicle for this involvement has been Protect Our Future PAC (POF), a political fund active in the recent 2022 US midterm elections. The fund ostensibly sought to lobby for effective altruist cause areas, with a particular emphasis on longtermism and pandemic prevention.

POF entered the electoral scene with a bang funding the campaign of Effective Altruist Carrick Flynn to the tune of $10 million. The fund proceeded to donate to 27  candidates in total, exclusively in the Democratic Primaries.

In total POF raised and spent $28 million, nearly all of this coming from Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) the cryptocurrency tycoon. Despite SBF's financial support, POF has repeatedly denied the fund served SBF's financial interests in cryptocurrency.

Irregularities

As a result of my interest in POF, I proceeded to research and investigate the group and have discovered what to me are irregularities.

I reached out to the President (Michael Sadowsky) and Press Spokesman (Mike Levine) of Protect Our Future, urging them to provide an explanation, but received no response. My inquiry can be viewed here.

Cryptocurrency Interests Amongst Candidates

Tweet by POF-endorsed congresswoman Sydney Kamlager showing pro-cryptocurrency sentiment

Of the 27 endorsed candidates I have been able to link 16 as having meaningful pro-cryptocurrency sentiment and/or committee positions that would make them target-worthy by cryptocurrency lobbyists.

A selection of candidates and their ties are presented here. A full table of all candidates endorsed by POF is available in the appendix. 

POF CandidateCrypto Sympathies/ Conflict of Interest
Abigail Spanberger (VA-07)

Rep. Spanberger sits on the subcommittee which oversees the CFTC.
It is known that SBF and other crypto adherents were lobbying authorities to shift crypto oversight from the SEC to CFTC.
https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-08-12/sam-bankman-fried-ftx-political-donations

https://zappermint.com/craziest-crypto-hearing-ever-heres-what-went-down/

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/economy/sec-official-steps-down-ftx-connection

Adam Hollier (MI-13)Received donations from Web3Forward PAC, a cryptocurrency lobbying group - $412K
https://www.fec.gov/data/committee/C00804187/?tab=spending
Alderman Gilbert Villegas (IL-03)Expressed pro-cryptocurrency sentiments as an alderman.
https://www.facebook.com/AldermanGilbertVillegas/posts/pfbid0HAS795MoEtyCGFpZSezxbqh6LjB4ff1yT1D446zXeWke1MahCZpDWCgFV6wSDCfsl

The presence of cryptocurrency advocates amongst POF's endorsed candidates was also picked up by the press:

The Bankman-Frieds have insisted the organizations are focused on pandemic preparedness and aren’t about influencing cryptocurrency policy. But endorsed candidates are sometimes major supporters of the crypto sector. Lafazan, for example, said back in June he would take campaign donations in cryptocurrency and said he would file a bill in the Nassau County Legislature to create a cryptocurrency task force. Torres, too, who won support from Guarding Against Pandemics, has also publicly boosted the industry.

- https://www.cityandstateny.com/politics/2022/08/cryptocurrency-billionaire-spending-big-new-york-congressional-primaries/375529/

 

Ray La Raja, a political scientist who studies campaign finance at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, says it’s likely no coincidence that Protect Our Future’s funds have gone to establishment candidates at a time when Congress is considering cryptocurrency regulations.

- https://www.theassemblync.com/politics/elections/buying-a-blue-seat-4th-district/

 

One, Maxwell Frost, a Florida Democrat who has become well known as the first Gen-Z member of Congress, got $8,700 in contributions from the Bankman-Fried brothers and nearly $1 million in help from Protect Our Future, almost all of it after announcing a “crypto-advisory council” for his campaign.

- https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/12/sam-bankman-fried-and-sean-mcelwees-fateful-alliance.html

Opportunity For Tommorrow PAC

There is also another fund that appears to have close ties to Protect Our Future called Opportunity For Tomorrow. The fund was exclusively donated to by SBF, and share's the same registered address as POF and the same treasurer.

It gave to 4 candidates, 3 of them having made pro-cryptocurrency statements, and the other, Hickenlooper, has urged regulation by the SEC (and critical of Gensler) which is desired by many cryptocurrency advocates (including SBF) and opposed by cryptocurrency skeptics (typically supportive of Gensler).

I reached POF for comment on these matters but received no reply.

Personnel Issues and Preceived Conflicts of Interest

A central figure in POF's election strategy was pollster Sean McElwee, who himself was an effective altruist, and whose company DataForProgress was paid by POF to conduct polling. McElwee has recently been ousted from Data For Progress for "allegedly pressuring an employee into being a straw donor for Democratic causes" (NYMag) and the perception he was gambling on election outcomes using the firm's polling. He was also made a member of Maxwell Frost's crypto-advisory council, a candidate who POF endorsed at the very behest of McElwee himself.

I asked POF's leaders if McElwee's involvement may explain some of POF's perceived cryptocurrency lobbying since although SBF was not supposed to be influencing, it sounds like McElwee was very aligned with SBF anyway.

I also asked POF if there were any perceived conflicts of interest arising from Sadowsky and Levine's workplaces at Blue Rose Research or TSD Communications (for example were any POF-endorsed candidates also clients of Blue Rose Research). 

Pandemic Lobbying Strategy

I personally found POF's lobbying strategy perplexing as the most effective lobbying effort to push Biden's pandemic plan would have been to help Democrats defeat Republicans in the general, yet POF PAC was exclusively active in Democratic primary races, pitting Democrats against Democrats.

Additionally, POF appears to have had a strategy to support incumbents in safe Democratic seats, and not necessarily candidates with the strongest pandemic prevention platform.

"If there’s a theme, it’s SBF spent on races that would be Dem blowouts, picking likely winners rather than edge cases"

- https://www.themainewire.com/2022/11/sam-bankman-frieds-ftx-collapse-touches-ukraine-the-world-economic-forum-silicon-valley-and-both-sides-of-d-c/

Other effective altruists have also expressed concern about POF's unclear strategy and endorsement choices: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/NRa7ndwZ6kmtJXKqx/ea-aligned-political-activity-in-a-us-congressional-primary

Progressive groups also have the impression they were targeted against by SBF's political activities, a claim that to me appears correct (full disclosure: I was a phone-banking volunteer for the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2020). https://maxberger.substack.com/p/sbf-and-the-injustice-democrats. Note that Max Berger's analysis captures other parts of SBF's political activity, not just Protect Our Future. 

In my inquiry to POF, I asked if POF did favour conservative Democratic candidates. I find this odd if this is the case, as typically left-wing candidates were most supportive of pandemic prevention and least resistant to government spending.

Tweet by MorePerfectUS, the media arm of US labour unions

Appendix

Full list of candidates and cryptocurrency ties

POF candidates with meaningful pro-cryptocurrency sentiment and/or committee positions that make targetworthy of influence by the cryptocurrency lobby.

POF CandidateCrypto Sympathies/ Conflict of Interest
Abigail Spanberger (VA-07)

Rep. Spanberger sits on the subcommittee which oversees the CFTC.
It is known that SBF and other crypto adherents were lobbying authorities to shift crypto oversight from the SEC to CFTC.
https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-08-12/sam-bankman-fried-ftx-political-donations

https://zappermint.com/craziest-crypto-hearing-ever-heres-what-went-down/

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/economy/sec-official-steps-down-ftx-connection

Adam Hollier (MI-13)Received donations from Web3Forward PAC, a cryptocurrency lobbying group - $412K
https://www.fec.gov/data/committee/C00804187/?tab=spending
Alderman Gilbert Villegas (IL-03)Expressed pro-cryptocurrency sentiments as an alderman.
https://www.facebook.com/AldermanGilbertVillegas/posts/pfbid0HAS795MoEtyCGFpZSezxbqh6LjB4ff1yT1D446zXeWke1MahCZpDWCgFV6wSDCfsl
Anthony Delgado (NY Lt. Governor)

Like Rep. Spanberger, sits on the subcommittee which oversees the CFTC.
It is known that SBF and other crypto adherents were lobbying authorities to shift crypto oversight from the SEC to CFTC.
https://zappermint.com/craziest-crypto-hearing-ever-heres-what-went-down/
https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/economy/sec-official-steps-down-ftx-connection

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/economy/sec-official-steps-down-ftx-connection

Becca Balint (VT-AL)FTX executive Nishad Singh also donated $1.1 million to Balint via the LGBTQ Victory Fund
https://vtdigger.org/2022/11/15/becca-balint-to-donate-2900-contribution-from-crypto-exec-sam-bankman-fried-to-charity/

Light sympathies to Blockchain technology
https://www.coindesk.com/markets/2016/05/17/vermont-is-close-to-passing-a-law-that-would-make-blockchain-records-admissible-in-court/
Brittany Pettersen (CO-7)Received donations from Web3Forward PAC, a cryptocurrency lobbying group - $106K
Chuy Garcia (IL-04)Received donations from Web3Forward PAC, a cryptocurrency lobbying group -$232K
Direct donations received by SBF.

Sits on the House Financial Services Committee which handles proposales to regulate crypto
https://www.politico.com/newsletters/illinois-playbook/2022/12/14/garcias-crypto-conundrum-00073844

Recently urging SEC regulation, and has been critical of FTX post-FTX collapse.
https://thehill.com/opinion/congress-blog/3828624-why-we-support-sec-regulation-of-crypto/
Jared Moskowitz (FL-22)$160K from web3forward
Jonathan Jackson (IL-01)Received donations from Web3Forward PAC, a cryptocurrency lobbying group -$491K
Josh Lafazan (NY-03)Strong supporter of cryptocurrencies, and is accepting donations to campaign via crypto.
https://twitter.com/JoshLafazan/status/1508236988675149831?s=20&t=WDr_04eBJ2aJ8FSbqX0R9w

Has links to right wing groups.
https://theintercept.com/2022/08/18/new-york-primary-joshua-lafazan-crypto/
Maxwell Alejandro Frost (FL-10)Strong supporter of cryptocurrencies.
https://web.archive.org/web/20220428/https://twitter.com/MaxwellFrostFL/status/1519781131603877891

Looking to setup a "Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Advisory Council"
https://floridapolitics.com/archives/520117-cd-10-democratic-candidate-maxwell-frost-sets-up-crypto-advisory-council/
Mayor Robert Garcia (CA-42)Supporter of cryptocurrencies.
https://twitter.com/RobertGarcia/status/1502325870870020098

Received donations from Web3Forward PAC, a cryptocurrency lobbying group - $232K
Peter Welch (VT-SEN)Received direct donations from SBF.

Listed as a crypto sympathiser by coinbase for co-sponsored a pro-crypto bill RESCUE Act for Black and Community Banks, which includes a provision to conduct a study on blockchain technology and whether such technology could be used to increase investment by lower-income individuals in start-ups and other crowd-funded companies.
https://www.coinbase.com/public-policy/legislative-portal/vt/houseOfRepresentatives/6paovrp4CKzqMiLonZNvY1
https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/154/text?r=16&s=1#H2C92C106F3C54DEB8229662B0670F23C
Rep. Ritchie Torres (NY-15)Big supporter of cryptocurrencies.
Many positive statements
https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-a-liberal-case-for-cryptocurrency-20220317-n6iaevmh5jeszkpiaqwcog742q-story.html

Seeking to subvert SEC's crypto investigation
https://prospect.org/power/eight-congressmen-subverting-secs-crypto-investigation/
State Rep. Jasmine Crockett (TX-30)Largest recepient from web3forward, a cryptocurrency lobbying group - $1.3m.
Sydney Kamlager (CA-30)Strong supporter of cryptocurrency.
https://twitter.com/sydneykamlager/status/1502625520931901446
https://cointelegraph.com/news/ca-lawmaker-introduces-legislation-to-accept-crypto-as-payment-for-govt-services

Received donations from Web3Forward PAC, a cryptocurrency lobbying group - $41K web3forward

POF candidates without meaningful pro-cryptocurrency sentiments.

POF CandidateCrypto Sympathies/ Conflict of Interest
Carrick Flynn (OR-06)Effective Altruism linked. Has been careful to not comment on crypto
Francis Conole (NY- 22)None apparent
Haley Stevens (MI-11)On committee that engaged lightly with blockhain technologies in 2020.
https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CHRG-116hhrg40870/html/CHRG-116hhrg40870.htm

No strong sympathies obvious.
Laura Gillen (NY-04)None apparent
Max Rose (NY-11)None apparent
Morgan McGarvey (KY-03)Voted for a  Blockchain Technology Working Group in Kentucky Legislature. But no strong sympathies apparent.
https://louisvilleky.gov/metro-council-district-8/document/recapofthelegislativeweek228pdf
Nikki Budzinski (IL-13)Also received money from a super PAC with the same address as POF PAC, Opportunity for Tomorrow PAC.
https://www.fec.gov/data/committee/C00811653/?tab=spending
Rep. Lucy McBath (GA-07)None apparent
Rep. Shontel Brown (OH-11)None apparent
Robert Menendez (NJ-08)Embroiled in corruption scandal, but not to do with cryptocurrency
https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2017/11/what-is-a-senator-is-a-key-question-in-the-menendez-case.html

Appears very critical of cryptocurrency post-FTX collapse.
 
Valerie Foushee (NC-04)None apparent

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Lizka
1y24
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Hi! Just flagging that I've marked this post as a "Personal Blog" post, based on the Forum's policy on politics

(This means those who've opted in to seeing "Personal Blog" posts on the Frontpage will see it there, while others should only see it in Recent Discussion, on the All Posts page, and on the relevant topic/tag pages.) 

Is there any chance you could reconsider? This post is not about my personal politics, or advocacy about any political candidates.

It's about the perceived misuse of an EA-linked fund called Protect Our Future.

I trust your judgement on this, but I think the Community section might be more fitting. This post is mainly about whether FTX money that was supposedly being spent to support pandemic preparedness was instead going to candidates that would further enrich FTX. Plenty of people (myself included) have lowered the visibility of Community posts on their frontpage, but those who  are interested in SBF's corruption would probably want this on their frontpage. The real discussion here is about SBF's potential dishonesty, not about any of the four topics outlined in the policy:

...the following types of post will remain in the “Personal Blog” category (meaning that they will not appear on the Forum’s homepage, but will appear in “All Posts,” in the author’s profile, and on any relevant tag pages):

  • Posts advocating for or against a specific political candidate or group of candidates (e.g. “Why effective altruists should vote for candidate Y”)
    • This policy also applies to posts which neutrally solicit opinions on a particular candidate, since those opinions are generally going to be advocacy for or against the candidate, which risks leading to the same issues.
  • Posts discussing policy issues with only tenuous connection to the main EA cause areas (e.g. “What John Smith’s position on gun rights means for EA voters”)

Some political content will continue to receive “Frontpage” categorization:

  • Posts discussing general systems for evaluating any political candidate (e.g. “Candidate Scoring System, Third Release”)
  • Posts discussing policy issues that are directly connected to core EA cause areas (e.g. this post on a campaign to boost Canadian development assistance)

I agreed with you at first, but upon reflection I think Lizka might be correct. While the majority of the post doesn't seem to fall within the topics for demotion to Personal Blog, the section on Lobbying Strategy does seem pretty partisan. If you're being strict with the rule (and the mods do have a decent legal reason to do so) then I think this ruling might make sense.

This feels underjustified. Irregularities in an EA related political fund seem different from a post about who to vote for.

I think this is a reasonable application of existing policy, although the "community" tag would have also been a reasonable application.

However, I think the policy is wrong insofar as the interest in not burying credible allegations of improper conduct of interest to the community as a large should supersede the "politics=personal blog" rule. In other words, an exception to cover this sort of post should be written into the rules.

My guess is the rule is there to avoid imperiling not-for-profit status; if so the mods don't really have much choice. I agree with you we don't want to bury such things, but I think the best solution here is just to hive the partisan part (which was I think also the least important part) into a separate post.

I haven't thought about it much, but I would be very surprised if this was a concern on the US end at least (or by moving it to personal blog post would allay any concern). It's not the organization's own speech.

I do wonder if there could be the reverse correlation: crypto hostile politicians might not have wanted to accept donations from a fund associated so heavily with crypto.

US politicans, choosy about who they take millions in support from? I guess anything's possible, although I'd want to see evidence that many US politicians are that heavily opposed to crypto.

Of the 27 endorsed candidates I have been able to link 16 as having meaningful pro-cryptocurrency sentiment and/or comittee positions that would make them target-worthy by cryptocurrency lobbyists.

Do any of them have anti-cryptocurrency positions? If the "pandemic lobbying" group only endorses pro-cryptocurrency candidates, I would find this pretty damning (and more damning than the other information you listed).

I think you would start this by looking at the base rate among all congresspeople

That is, looking at "non-FTX funded" how many are have "pro-cryptocurrency views" and "anti cryptocurrency " views.

It's notable that Web3Forward PAC spent on 14 candidates and eight of them are on the POF list. That seems to be a reasonable proxy for being very pro-crypto.

sure but that's more work.

I could only find one, Robert Menendez, with positions that might be deemed anti-crypto before the FTX collapse. He sponsored some anti-money laundering some bills taking aim against Russia, Venezuela, El Salvador https://www.coinbase.com/public-policy/legislative-portal/nj/senate/n6vBNOTG2gwWQ1c3jOQqn

A handful of these candidates have also become anti-crypto post-FTX collapse, and beginning to return/donate the money recevied from FTX/SBF.  Chuy Garcia is one example.

Thanks, this is helpful!

Thanks for doing this! I think the most striking part of what you found is the donations to representatives who sit on the subcommittee that oversees the CFTC (i.e. the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit), so I wanted to look into this more. From a bit of Googling:

  • It looks like you're right that Rep. Delgado sits on (and is even the Chair of) this subcommittee.
  • On the other hand, it looks like Rep. Spanberger doesn't actually sit on this subcommittee, and hasn't done so since 2021. In other words, she hasn't been on this subcommittee since the Protect our Future PAC was founded (which was early 2022).

I didn't spend much time on this, so I very possibly missed or misinterpreted things.

Thank you for this. I think you're right.

I'll issue a correction.

In my view, there probably should not be an "EA-linked PAC," at least absent some serious decoupling from any megadonor.

Even if the beneficiary politicians were picked cleanly, all of them know who wrote the checks and who  ultimately decides if the PAC gets funded next time. They will feel indebted to the megadonor, and so the existence of the "EA-linked PAC" necessarily and substantially furthers the megadonor's personal and business interests. This is true no matter how pure the megadonor's actual motive for providing funding. 

I don't think that it is healthy or appropriate for projects that substantially further a donor's personal and business interests -- even unintentionally -- to be carried out under the EA flag. 

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