Introduction

This brief post gives some background on Guarding Against Pandemics (GAP), which does non-partisan political advocacy for biosecurity work in the U.S. and has unique potential for impact and fundraising needs. Specifically, it makes the case for donating to GAP’s Political Action Committee (PAC). While GAP’s lobbying work (e.g. talking to members of Congress) is already well-funded by Sam Bankman-Fried and others, another important part of GAP’s work is supporting elected officials from both parties who will advocate for biosecurity and pandemic preparedness. U.S. campaign contribution limits require that this work be supported by many small-to-medium-dollar donors. Even though many projects within the EA space are typically not funding constrained, the significant upside of political contributions combined with U.S. campaign contribution laws make the PAC a uniquely good opportunity for small-dollar donors interested in reducing global catastrophic biological risk.

You can contribute to the PAC following this link. Due to federal election law, only U.S. citizens are allowed to donate, each individual’s giving is limited to $5,000 per year, and donations are not tax-deductible.

To expand on both this post and the PAC, GAP will be hosting an online Q&A with its founder and director Gabe Bankman-Fried on Tuesday, October 12 at 7pm ET. Registration for this online event is here.   

This post outlines:

  1. What GAP is;
  2. Why GAP’s work is important/neglected/tractable;
  3. What donations pay for and why they matter; and
  4. Details about how to donate and/or contribute in other ways.

What is GAP?

Guarding Against Pandemics (GAP) advocates for public investments to prevent the next pandemic. GAP was formed during the COVID-19 pandemic by Gabe Bankman-Fried and others committed to mitigating global catastrophic biological risks (GCBRs). 

While there has been massive public investment in responding to COVID-19, there has been almost no public investment targeted at protecting us from the next global health crisis or to even more catastrophic pandemic risks. Doing so will require engagement at all levels of government. That’s why GAP is pushing Congress to include a significant initial payment towards the Biden administration’s $65 billion pandemic preparedness plan in Democrats’ upcoming budget reconciliation bill to prepare for the next pandemic, as well as funding a pandemic research ballot initiative in Denver.

GAP has already garnered significant attention from politicians and the national media, including NBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Atlantic, Huffington Post, and The Hill. GAP purchased a 6-figure media buy to advocate for including $30 billion of pandemic funding in the reconciliation bill, which was featured in Punchbowl News. GAP also purchased another 6-figure buy during the congressional recess in key states which was featured in McClatchy, and hired lobbying firm Van Scoyoc which was featured in Politico. 

Why is GAP’s work important/neglected/tractable? 

GAP’s strategy to reduce global catastrophic biological risks is to leverage political relationships, lobbying, and direct campaign contributions in order to encourage public investment in pandemic preparedness. 

This work is important: driving public investment in pandemic preparedness has an enormous upside given the magnitude of the potential threats. The scale of resources that governments can deploy to combat biological risks is simply massive and easily and dramatically dominates the amount that could plausibly be raised from private individuals and/or institutions.    

It is neglected: there has been no systematic effort to drive political attention towards the threat of catastrophic pandemics through U.S. lobbying and political donations. These tactics have largely not yet been tried by people who take pandemic risks seriously.

It is tractable: because of the significant public appetite for the government to expand its work on pandemic preparedness in the wake of COVID-19, there is a real chance to help shape the details and scope of the government’s commitment to pandemic preparedness before this political window of opportunity closes. We do not intend to provide an exhaustive literature review of the effectiveness of lobbying and campaign contributions — it may even be the case that there is no useful way to measure it. However, there is good reason to believe that if our community is able to drive political attention towards more, better, and upstream pandemic preparedness investment in the wake of COVID-19, then we could see a commensurate increase in funding, activity, and concern from all levels of government.

What would my donation pay for and why does that matter?

Donations to the PAC would go towards supporting candidates who are champions for pandemic preparedness in Congress and in state and local offices. 

Unlike many EA priorities, because of campaign finance limits of $5,000 per person in donations, political giving is bottlenecked by the number of donors in addition to the total dollar amount available. This means the impact of small-dollar donations is disproportionately high in this area. While GAP has the ability to fundraise for other types of expenditures (e.g., lobbying, advertising, etc.), it will not be able to provide direct contributions to pandemic preparedness champions without a sizable base of individual supporters. 

Direct support is arguably the most effective/efficient way of building ongoing relationships with decision-makers in order to drive sustained attention towards and investment in pandemic preparedness. 

How to donate/contribute

Given the importance of this issue, neglectedness of these tactics, and the high-leverage moment we are currently in, we are requesting that individuals contribute as much as they are able up to the federal limit. If you are interested in contributing to the PAC, you can use this link. Reminder: due to federal election law, only U.S. citizens are allowed to donate, each individual’s giving is limited to $5,000 per year, and donations are not tax-deductible.

If you are not an American citizen and/or would like to help in other ways aside from donating, please consider sharing this post with your networks and signing up for and sharing the mailing list here to stay up to date about GAP’s work and future opportunities. 

As mentioned above, GAP will also host a Q&A with founder and director Gabe Bankman-Fried to answer any questions that people interested in contributing to the PAC may have. Sign up here.

If you have any questions about this post, our work, our strategy, or your donation/support, please email us at outreach@againstpandemics.org

Guidance to CEA-funded EA Group Organizers

Because Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA)-funded EA group organizers are not allowed to engage in political activity, it is important that they do not share the above donation link or actively encourage members to donate, unless outside of working hours and not through EA-related email accounts. However, they may do the following: 

  • Share this post and/or the Q&A session sign-up information via EA mailing lists or EA social media accounts as something that their members might be interested in checking out
  • Have a discussion group about the effectiveness of lobbying or political activity, at which point GAP may be discussed as a case study and this Forum post may be shared as reading material
  • Make a contribution to the PAC
  • Discuss contributing to the PAC with other members of the EA community privately
  • Share the PAC donation link privately outside of CEA-funded working hours

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13 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 4:49 PM
New Comment

Important topic. Though I find it hard to gauge the project without certain basic info:

  1. In what ways is this actually a non-partisan effort (when the funding is going through ActBlue)?
  2. How are you managing any risks, not limited to polarising EA politics, poisoning political relationships?
  3. To what extent has the project been vetted by funders and experts working in adjacent areas?

I'm not responding on behalf of GAP, but since I've been working a bit with them, I'll try to answer.
 

  1. The efforts to find and work with Republican champions are ongoing, and there are at least some (non-public, in the works) efforts which are definitely on the Republican side. I don't know all the details, but I'm assuming the issue for now is that 1) they haven't set up infrastructure for donations independent of ActBlue, and 2) the democrats are in power, and lost of things are happening immediately, so they are the primary target for much current lobbying.
  2. This is a definite topic of discussion, and I'm not sure there's a way to answer briefly, but I think that a well-run and careful lobbying done by a group which aligns itself with the EA movement, but in no way claims to reflect the movement, has limited risks. That said, of course it's very difficult to predict how political lobbying plays out, but companies and other movements certainly negotiate this with a decent ability to avoid trouble. More than that, the alternative which has been embraced so far is to not have any outlet to engage in lobbying directly, and it seems like an important tool, so continuing not to use it seems ill-advised - but I'd be happy to have a more in-depth discussion of this with you.
  3. I can't name who has been involved in discussions, but I'll vouch for the fact that several of the people I would want in the loop on this are, in fact, in the loop. I can't promise that they will have sufficient veto-power, but I think Gabe is sufficiently aware of the issues and the risks of unilateralism that it's fine.

If anyone has a contrary impression on any of these points, feel free to say so, and/or reach out to me privately.

I desperately want to support an organization that promises to Guard Against Pandemics, because it's so vastly important.  But, the only concrete "use of funds" here I see is "donating to Elizabeth Warren and Anna Eshoo" and I've read a lot of what Warrens thinks we should do, and it seems.... underwhelming?  It seems like a ton of it is "giving people money to mitigate the negative effects of the  pandemic" and almost nothing about preventing actual pandemics?  

Given that it seems pretty obvious (now) that comprehensive test/trace/isolate programs and rapid vaccine development are the keys to actually stopping pandemics, has Warren supported something like this?   Pandemics are contagious diseases that spread based on our collective immunity.  Any real plan focuses on preventing that spread and increasing our immunity.  Her plans involve lots of stimulus, which is perhaps a good idea, but not exactly going to stop/slow a pandemic.

And do we think that any future pandemic is going to be guarded against without a reform of the CDC and FDA?  Does Warren support that?

Instead of having "support Elizabeth Warren" as a goal, why not just write up a public list of the (boring, simple, relatively cheaper than what we did) policies that we absolutely know would stop/slow a pandemic (and were indeed heavily pushed by lots of very public people) and then donate/support those politicians who publicly signal their agreement for it, and who push policies that support it?  Wasn't it the Club For Growth that had that No New Taxes pledge that pols could sign?  Something like that.

I've read a lot of what Warrens thinks we should do, and it seems.... underwhelming?  It seems like a ton of it is "giving people money to mitigate the negative effects of the  pandemic" and almost nothing about preventing actual pandemics?  

Indeed, she said she was opposed to the US paying more for vaccines, and supported IP expropriation, both of which reduce the incentives to invest in vaccines for next time.

Definitely - she is very much a "when you have a hammer, all problems look like nails" and her hammer is named "trillions of dollars and nice-sounding government agencies."  And moreover, I think her error there is part of a wider issue, where we did see the current pandemic as a nail and tried mightily to hammer it with trillions of dollars and government agencies with Control Diseases in the title.  But she doesn't necessarily understand that the CDC and FDA, rather than "underfunded and therefore unable to combat the pandemic, therefore we can accomplish Pandemic Prep by giving them more money" were actually "highly funded, and used a lot of that money to delay/hinder pandemic response, both extremely early on and to this day."  If GAP is going to persuade her to reform the CDC and FDA so they can fight the (next) pandemic (literally the CDC's job already), then I'm all for that.  But I need to see that before I donate any money.

Very important topic, thanks for putting together this great idea!

Could you explain in a bit more detail how the $5,000 gating issue works? My understanding was that multi-candidate PACs topped out at giving $5,000 to each candidate, regardless of how many extra small donors they had (assuming they hit the 51 threshold). Once you have e.g. 100 donors giving $5,000, what can you do with an additional $5,000 donor?

Perhaps it might be useful for you to share the list of candidates you think are good? This would allow people to donate to them directly, allowing each top candidate to receive more than $5,000, because each individual can give $2,800 to each candidate. Donors could then write 'for supporting pandemic preparedness' in the notes field, so the politicians understand what behaviour we are supporting.

It would also allow people to customize who they donate to; people might want to support pandemic-aware politicians in general, but have other reasons for vetoing one or two on the list.

Finally, the post says:

Reminder: due to federal election law, only U.S. citizens are allowed to donate

But the donate link says:

I am a U.S. citizen or lawfully admitted permanent resident (i.e., green card holder).

Could you clarify whether green card holders can donate?

editted to add:

I notice you are using ActBlue to handle payments. My impression was they only allowed people to support Democrats - for example Phil Scott, the governor of Vermont, doesn't even show up on their website, even though he has been very good on covid. Are ActBlue happy with a non-partisan PAC using their systems to donate to Republican politicians?

Thanks for taking the time to read through, Larks! Some of these questions are better answered via the upcoming Q&A on October 12, so we highly encourage you to intend if you are interested in contributing. Responding briefly to your other questions: 

  1. Since this is a new PAC, we are currently soliciting for a small pool of biosecurity champions that at the moment are Democratic. The ActBlue account accepting donations reflects this, but as we grow, we will broaden the ways we solicit for Republican candidates. We can share more on the considerations behind this choice at the Q&A. 
  2. Yes, green card holders may donate.

Ahh. You said in the post that the group was supporting both parties:

Guarding Against Pandemics (GAP), which does non-partisan political advocacy ... another important part of GAP’s work is supporting elected officials from both parties who will advocate for biosecurity and pandemic preparedness. [emphasis added]

... which makes this decision a bit confusing. I think it is very easy to get sucked into partisanship and just going for one side; avoiding this requires consistent effort from the beginning. Do you expect that over the long run you will support roughly equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats? I could imagine it being useful to have some kind of promise to spend equally between the parties. Otherwise I think you're in danger of just looking like another Democrat front group.

As I said in another comment, I'm working with GAP, but am not speaking on their behalf. And feel free to wait until the presentation before deciding about donating, but yes, there is already effort to push on both sides of the aisle. That said, it's a waste of time and money for a narrowly focused lobbying group to aim to support equal numbers of people on both sides of the aisle, rather than opportunistically finding champions for individual issues on both sides, and building relationships that allow us to get specific items passed. 

That means that when there is a bill which is getting written by the party currently in power in the house, GAP is going to focus on key members of the relevant committees - which is largely, but certainly not exclusively,  the party in power. And given US political dynamics, it is likely that GAP will be talking even more to Republicans during the next year, to ensure they have champions for their work during the next Congress.

The Q&A isn't for three weeks.  Until then GAP is giving off the impression of being a front for the DNC, while collecting money from people who aren't citizens and aren't eligible to contribute to campaigns, and in amounts that a multicandidate PAC legally can't distribute to candidates.  I'm not trying to accuse GAP of being a scam, but it seems to be doing its best to look like one right now.

Is there any way you can address these concerns sooner than October 12?  Perhaps in a follow-up post or long comment here?

Thanks for sharing this write-up, and I look forward to learning more at the 10/12 call.

I also chipped in via the ActBlue link —  and would encourage other U.S. citizens thinking about their 2021 and 2022 effective giving to do the same. Contributions also have a greater impact earlier in the election cycle (e.g., in fall 2021 versus fall 2022) so there's no time like the present.

Thanks so much, Jared! Happy to have your support. Be sure to sign up for updates on the GAP homepage.

One needs to request access to view the linked Google Docs - is that intentional?