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The FTX and Alameda estates have filed an adversary complaint against the FTX Foundation, SBF, Ross Rheingans-Yoo, Nick Beckstead, and some biosciences firms, available here. I should emphasize that anyone can sue over anything, and allege anything in a complaint (although I take complaints signed by Sullivan & Cromwell attorneys significantly more seriously than I take the median complaint). I would caution against drawing any adverse inferences from a defendant's silence in response to the complaint.

The complaint concerns a $3.25MM "philantrophic gift" made to a biosciences firm (PLS), and almost $70MM in non-donation payments (investments, advance royalties, etc.) -- most of which were also to PLS. The only count against Beckstead relates to the donation. The non-donation payments were associated with Latona, which according to the complaint "purports to be a non-profit, limited liability company organized under the laws of the Bahamas[,] incorporated in May 2022 for the purported purpose of investing in life sciences companies [which] held itself out as being part of the FTX Foundation."

The complaint does not allege that either Beckstead or Rheingans-Yoo knew of the fraud at the core of FTX and Alameda.

It does, however, allege (para. 46) that the "transfers were nominally made on behalf of the 
FTX Foundation and Latona, but actually were made for the benefit of Bankman-Fried." This is a weak spot in the complaint for me. There's a quote from SBF about needing to do some biosecurity work for PR and political reasons (para. 47), but corporations do charitable stuff for PR and political reasons all the time. There are quotations about wanting to de-emphasize the profit motive / potential in public communications (para. 49-50), but if the profits flowed to a non-profit it's unclear how that would personally enrich SBF.

Quoting Beckstead, the complaint alleges that the investments were "ill-advised and not well-evaluated" (para. 51). It further alleges that there was no, or very little due dilligence (para. 51), such as a lack of any valuation analysis and in most cases lack of access to a data room. As a result, Latona "often paid far more than fair or reasonably equivalent value for the 
investments" (para. 52). As for the $3.25MM gift, it was "was made in a similarly slapdash fashion" as the Foundation agreed to it without even knowing whether the recipient was a non-profit (para. 53). There are also allegations about how that gift came to be (para. 53-64).

Paragraph 68 is troubling in terms of Latona's lack of internal controls:

  • On May 23, 2022, Rheingans-Yoo sent a Slack message to the Head of 
    Operations for FTX Ventures, asking her to wire $50 million to PLS on behalf of Latona, 
    because “Latona doesn’t have a bank account yet, and we’d like to move these funds as soon as possible.” After the Head of Operations inquired why they were wiring $50 million when the SAFE agreement was only for $35 million, Rheingans-Yoo said there was a “separate purchase agreement [that] had a $15mln cash advance.” When the Head of Operations asked for the purchase agreement for $15 million, Rheingans-Yoo replied, “I have an email, no formal agreement,” but “if that’s not sufficient, we can send the 35 first and get the purchase more formally papered.

There apparently wasn't an attempt to formally paper the $15MM until September, and that paper was woefully vague and inadequate if the complaint is credible (para. 70). Likewise, Rheingans-Yoo allegedly offered to send over $3MM to another firm, Lumen, "on a handshake basis" without any paperwork "while we hammer out the full details" (para. 75). However, the funding was not actually sent until an agreement was signed (para. 78-79). A third investment was made on Rheingans-Yoo's recommendation despite Beckstead describing it as "unattractive" for various reasons (para. 82-84).

The "donate, then invest" approach seemed to also be in play with a fourth firm called Riboscience. Paragraph 93 doesn't sound great: "On June 29, 2022, Glenn emailed Rheingans-Yoo that “sufficient time ha[d] passed since the (most generous) donation to the Glenn Labs, that we can now proceed with your desired investment in Riboscience.”

Counts One to Five are similar to what I would expect most clawback complaints would look like. Note that they do not allege any misconduct by the recipients as part of the cause of action, as no such misconduct is necessary for a fraudulent conveyance action. You can also see the bankruptcy power to reach beyond the initial transferee to subsequent transferees under 11 USC 550 at play here. Most of the prefactory material is doubtless there in an attempt to cut off a defense from the defendant biosciences firms that they gave something of reasonably equivalent value in exchange for the investments.

In Count Eleven, the complaint alleges that "Rheingans-Yoo knew that the transactions with the Lifesciences Defendants did not provide and had virtually no prospect of providing Alameda with reasonably equivalent value, and that Bankman-Fried personally benefited from the transactions. Rheingans-Yoo thus knowingly assisted in and/or failed to prevent Bankman-Fried’s breaches of fiduciary duty to Alameda." (para. 169). This allegedly harmed Alameda to the tune of $68.3MM. Elsewhere, the complaint alleges that " [u]pon information and belief, Bankman-Fried and Rheingans-Yoo intended to benefit personally from any profits generated by any of 
these companies if they turned out to be successful and/or developed a successful product." (para. 5). However, "upon information and belief" is lawyer-speak for "we're speculating, or at least don't have a clear factual basis for this allegation yet."

In Count Twelve, the complaint alleges that "Beckstead and Rheingans-Yoo knew that the transfer to PLS funded by FTX did not provide and had virtually no prospect of providing FTX with reasonably equivalent value, and that Bankman-Fried personally benefited from the transaction. Beckstead and Rheingans-Yoo thus aided and abetted Bankman-Fried’s breaches of fiduciary duty to FTX." (para. 174). This allegedly harmed FTX to the tune of $3.25MM.

In the end, the complaint doesn't exactly make me think highly of anyone involved with FTX or the FTX Foundation. However, from my non-specialist eyes, I'm not seeing a slam dunk case for critical assertions about Beckstead and Rheingans-Yoo's knowledge in paras. 169 and 174.

Just want to say I appreciate your commentary over the past 9 months. Having someone with legal expertise and (what seems to me) a pretty even-handed and sensible perspective is a really valuable contribution.

Thanks for sharing this; I was originally confused by the complaint because I didn't understand why a nonprofit making unprofitable investments would be cause for concern, but it sounds like your speculation is that the stuff about these being bad investments is included just to prevent the life sciences companies from claiming that the equity Latona received was of reasonably equivalent value and therefore they don't have to give the money back?

That's the main purpose of those allegations on my read.

A possible secondary purpose could be to imply something like: these 'investments' and 'donations' made so little sense that it's implausible that they were motivated by legitimate charitable purposes. Therefore, the individual defendants must have known (or clearly should have known) there was something nefarious afoot like personally benefitting SBF. 

That could be enough to get past a motion to dismiss, where the bar is fairly low (at that stage, the court basically has to accept all factual allegations as pled, and draw all plausible inferences in the plaintiff's favor) and haul the defendants in for depositions under oath. As I mentioned, I found the complaint to be not particularly convincing in its characterization of the individual defendants' knowledge -- but to be fair to Sullivan & Cromwell, it's not reasonable to expect a particularly strong case on alleged improper purpose before conducting depositions. 

Do you have a take on whether we should read things into them not alleging that Beckstead/RY knew about FTX's improper use of customer funds?

On the one hand: I assume that if they did have evidence here it would make their case much much stronger, and based on your comments about "upon information and belief" it sounds like they don't need a very high evidentiary standard to make such an allegation. But on the other: maybe there's some complex legal strategy I don't understand which would make them not include this allegation even if they did have evidence.

I wouldn't read very much into it.

The complaint only needs to be strong enough to get past a motion to dismiss for now, and it is fairly easy to amend a complaint if need be. There is some benefit to putting your best foot forward, but there are a number of plausible reasons one might not allege knowledge of fraud against depositors despite some evidence. Those reasons follow.

I should note that I personally thought -- and still think -- it very unlikely that any FTXFF staff knew about the customer fraud. Keeping one's conspiracy information on a strict need-to-know basis is Being a Fraudster 101, and I can think of no reason why SBF and his co-conspirators would have concluded anyone at FTXFF had a need to know.

  • Unless they are much richer than charitable foundation officials tend to be, Beckstead and RY are very likely not the primary targets here. There are much bigger fish in this lawsuit and in the pond as a whole. Moreover, as a practical matter, I doubt the recovery against Beckstead and RY would be appreciably higher as a result of proving knowledge about the misuse of customer funds than "merely" proving an allegation that they aided and abetted SBF fleecing FTX (and for RY, Alameda). So the upside of making an allegation of customer-fraud knowledge seems more limited to me than might first appear.
    • Alleging that someone was basically in on the customer fraud[1]makes that the main story of the complaint and could take the narrative focus away from your primary targets -- the biotech firms that actually have (or had) the money.
    • Judges are human. If one were going to allege that specific individuals were in on the fraud (when the judge knows that allegation wasn't necessary to make in the complaint), they had best be fairly confident they are going to be able to connect on that allegation. Failure to do so would risk one's credibility with a judge who will decide billions of dollars worth of other disputes in your case.
      • My guess is that this complaint has received priority because startups can burn money fast (and may be particularly incentivized to burn fast if they know a clawback suit, which they cannot withstand without some big risks paying off, is coming soon). It's unlikely that fully investigating Beckstead and RY has been much of a priority.
  • If substantial evidence existed that a particular person at FTX or FTXFF knew about the fraud, that person would presumably be a significant criminal target. I believe FTX is cooperating with DOJ, and its lawyers would know even without DOJ telling them they should not unnecessarily disclose information that suggests someone is a criminal target. The judge knows the unstated rules too, and wouldn't hold it against FTX's lawyers for slow-playing information to avoid compromising a criminal investigation (but would probably be at least annoyed if they compromised one).
  • This is a weird case in which the plaintiffs probably have much more access to Beckstead and RY's records than an average plaintiff would have at this stage, maybe more access than Beckstead and RY themselves have! They will need to turn over those records in discovery. However, I could see an argument for not giving defendants a roadmap as to what the plaintiffs already know, in order to potentially preserve some traps for the discovery process. Giving the defendants a roadmap could help them prepare for their interrogatories and depositions.
  1. ^

    I would characterize directing the expenditure of FTX or Alameda funds, with knowledge of the underlying depositor fraud, as being "in on it."

Thanks! This is helpful.

I thought this recent study in JAMA Open on vegan nutrition was worth a quick take due to its clever and legible study design: 

This was an identical twin study in which one twin went vegan for eight weeks, and the other didn't. Nice results on some cardiometabolic lab values (e.g., LDL-C) even though the non-vegan twin was also upping their game nutritionally. I don't think the fact that vegan diets generally improve cardiometabolic health is exactly fresh news, but I find the study design to be unusually legible for nutritional research.

I didn't do an exhaustive search, but was a bit surprised to find zero EA organizations registered with the Combined Federal Campaign, the US federal government employee charitable donation drive. I think the federal HR office ("OPM") is exaggerating a bit when it calls the CFC "the world's largest and most successful annual workplace charity campaign," but it is true that there are several million federal employees out there. Admittedly, CFC numbers are down over the last few years, but there are still about 80K donors a year.

There are some user fees, red tape, and overhead costs, meaning the CFC is not a great way to move a lot of money. But it might be worthwhile for certain organizations with potentially broader appeal (e.g., AMF, GiveWell) to experiment with an application as a form of low-cost advertising and see if they get (m)any bites. I'm less confident in that after seeing the decline in CFC participation over the last six years. And maybe perhaps some orgs have done so in past years and found out it wasn't effective enough for the investment.

I see that IPA (which is on the EA organization list) is registered. Maybe organizations considering going through this process should ask IPA how it’s worked out so far.

Is it normal for nonprofits to initiate this? Rather than employees of the Federal gov't who are invested? Most employee giving programs I'm aware of have primarily employee-initiated ways of adding charities.

Only the nonprofit can initiate it, see the "user fees" link above.

The Met (a major art museum in NYC) is returning $550K in FTX-linked donations; article below includes link to the court filing. 100% return, donations were outside of 90 days. This is the first court filing of this nature I'm aware of, although I haven't been watching comprehensively.

A smart move for the Met, I think. I doubt it had any viable defenses, it clearly has $550K to return without causing any hardship, that's enough money for the FTX estate to litigate over, and it avoids bad PR by agreeing to turn 100% of the money over without litigation. Perhaps it could have negotiated a small discount, but saving $50K or whatever just wouldn't have been worth it in light of PR/optics concerns. (Plus, I think the Met was very likely obliged to return the whole $550K from an ethical perspective anyway . . . . { edit: perhaps with a small deduction for its legal expenses }) 

I notice my surprise that FTX was donating to the Met Museum, lol 

They also paid for naming rights to various stadiums, I could imagine a similar thing with the Met (a gallery for FTX-traded NFTs?)

A second interim report has been filed by the FTX debtor-in-possession here, with some potentially relevant information. The report explains how FTX used accounts into which customers deposited money, as well as other accounts with commingled funds, to conduct various activities. The report is very much a birds-eye view, so only describes examples:

The FTX Foundation grants were funded via transfers from a variety of bank 
accounts, including North Dimension-8738 and Alameda-4456 (Primary Deposit Accounts), as 
well as Alameda-4464 and FTX Trading-9018, all of which contained commingled customer and 
corporate funds. The FTX Foundation used these funds to make grants to individuals and 

In addition to receiving transfers of commingled funds, the FTX Foundation also 
regularly directed the payment of “grants” directly from FTX Group bank accounts that held 
commingled customer and corporate funds. For example, on May 19, 2022, the FTX Foundation 
authorized a $300,000 grant to an individual to “[w]rite a book about how to figure out what 
humans’ utility function is (are),” and transferred the funds to this individual from North 
Dimension-8738, a Primary Deposit Account. On June 30, 2022, the FTX Foundation funded a 
$400,000 grant to an entity that posted animated videos on YouTube related to “rationalist and 
[Effective Altruism] material,” again causing the funds to be wired directly from North 
Dimension-8738, a Primary Deposit Account.

(alterations in original)

Rational Animations is probably the YouTube channel the report is referring to, in case anyone's curious.

Did the book about figuring out humans' utility functions ever get written?

Much to my surprise, the SBF trial went ahead -- and on time!

I've been mostly absent the last few months due to a personal/family situation, but one general reflection:

Much has been said about the importance of evaluating character in the wake of the FTX collapse. I'd also point out the importance of evaluating consistency of good judgment. From the outside perspective (but as a lawyer), SBF's choices as a criminal defendant appear to reflect quite poor judgment.[1] I'd characterize it as well below average for college-educated defendants who are represented by counsel with enough resources to do a good job. I am less confident that this trend toward making a number of bad judgments could have been detected earlier, but I'd suggest that many people who make really bad decisions have a detectable history of making bad decisions in the past. 

All that is to suggest that the community might want to screen for erratic judgment in addition to character and trustworthiness (C&T). Assessing C&T is hard; just ask any intelligence agency -- which has polygraphs, FBI agents, intelligence information, and so forth that EA will never have. There are going to be cases in which the result is "mixed," "middling," or "not enough information to have decent error bars." Assessing consistency of good judgment isn't easy either, but at least we are trying to measure two things rather than just one.

I'd suggest that the combination of problematic character and a lack of consistent good judgment may be significantly more dangerous than either alone. I'm reminded of reports that 20% of business leaders may have traits associated with psychopathy. I'm not endorsing that statistic, and not equating untrustworthiness with psychopathy. 

My thesis, rather, is that untrustworthy people who also display a lack of consistent good judgment may be particularly risky in synergistic ways. Thus, it may be prudent to treat a C&T rating of "mixed," "middling," or "not enough information" with a good-judgment rating of "poor" or even "mixed/middling" much the same as a C&T rating of "poor" as far as risk tolerance.

  1. ^

    I can understand the decision not to plead guilty, especially since it sounds like it would have been a blind plea rather than a plea bargain. I would have made a blind plea in his shoes, but at least understand why he didn't. And it's hard to imagine a viable defense here that didn't include taking the stand. But other stuff -- the substack, personally contacting a witness, using a VPN, leaking derogatory information about a witness to the Times -- is hard to justify as sound strategy, much less some galaxy-brained EV+ plan.

Do you have thoughts on how one might screen for "erratic judgment"? In particular: are there ways of screening for this which wouldn't be well correlated with screens hiring managers already normally do?

I could imagine reference checks turning some of this up, for example, but reference checks are pretty standard thing that managers do anyway.

I started donations today to two smaller EA nonprofits, but noticed that both had seemed to set up donation platforms in a more expensive way than necessary. I wrote both organizations (which I won't name) and will complete donations to both. But I thought it was worth noting that optimizing fees could be low-hanging fruit. In addition to saving a few percent of donations, donors really don't like the idea that a non-trivial chunk of their donations will be consumed by credit card companies and platforms. 

Some options to consider in the US for organizations with 501(c)(3) status:

  • Meta doesn't charge platform fees or credit card fees for donations made in Facebook fundraisers or through Meta Pay, whatever that is. I believe those route through the Network for Good DAF. A small nonprofit I advise (which is not part of the EA community) keeps a link to a current Facebook fundraiser on its homepage for exactly this reason.
  • Paypal doesn't charge platform or card fees for donations made to its DAF through its Giving Fund, which routes funds through a DAF into the charity's coffers. TLYCS is set up with them, for instance. My understanding is that, even if you don't want to go that route, Paypal rates are somewhat lower for charities than the default rates if you get that set up.
  • I am less confident in -- and haven't recently researched -- the best solution for donors who don't want to go through Meta or Paypal. Donorbox is generally 2.3% for ACH transactions, 3.7% for cards, so that is worth checking as a benchmark against whatever an organization is using.

Although I'm sure various platforms offer various advantages to organizations and donors, my guess is that many EAs will be drawn to methods that reduce/eliminate fees if those do not involve any additional marginal work for the organization. My own reaction as a donor is to be impressed/pleased when an organization displays awareness about how to minimize transaction costs. (I am aware that I should be considering any extra cost to the organization, e.g., from handling paper checks, but it's not obvious to me that there would be any from the three options listed above.)

So even if an organization decides to use a more expensive platform on its website for features or other reasons, it may still make sense to sign up for something more efficient as a secondary pathway and promote that where appropriate (e.g., on this forum during giving season).

Strong upvoted mainly to incentivise accompanying the pointing out of a potential problem with i) acknowledgement of counter-considerations and ideally ii) some contribution to the solution. is another free platform I've found through this forum

I have five nieces and nephews (ages ~7-14) who I don't see that often. They are old enough to understand helping others, and I'd like to start slowly nudging them in that direction (and with an effective bent) this holiday season. I don't think any (or at least most) of them would really "get" a charitable gift in their honor without some sort of tangible object that might serve as a prompt to remember the gift. Of course, I would give such a gift in addition to a gift at the normative level for uncle-to-nibling gifts; having the expection of a desired toy replaced with a charitable gift would probably hurt my objective. It would very likely be in global health/development to make it palatable to the parents.

I'm aware of gift catalogs like this one from World Vision that offer various small items in exchange for a donation. And of course I could make the donation and the purchase separately. This kind of exercise is easier to do when you can make some sort of (possibly nebulous) connection between the donation and the item (e.g., here is an item made by the group of disadvantaged people who are helped by the donation). But effective programs are harder to convey in objects than give someone a cow, get a cow ornament for your holiday tree.

Any recommendations? (Also fine to say that my theory of change here is misguided, or that this just isn't workable.)

People have given me Christmas gifts like this before! Most memorable were a colorful bracelet that was from an anti-malaria donation, and lottery-style scratch cards where the "wins" go to charity. I was very thankful for both, but also old enough to already care about the charity part.


Do your niblings have any strong moral opinions? At 14, at least, I was definitely old enough to have a couple moral/political opinions. I'm not sure contributing to a 14 y/o's pet cause is particularly directly effective (even by the cause-preferences of their future-self). However, it could be a) show you know them well enough to know what they care about and b) demonstrate that a person can use resources to have an impact in the real world.

If they volunteer somewhere they care about, you could do a split donation; 50% to the place they volunteer so they can (hopefully) see the impact, and 50% to a related effective charity. Like 50% to a local hospital they volunteer at, at 50% to an effective global health org.

 I've heard some younger kids go through vegetarian phases, so if that's true of any of your niblings maybe something like a cute stuffed animal (highland cow?) that also donates to protecting that animal? Though hopefully you know their parents well enough that you won't get in trouble if the kid ends up less willing to eat steak.

If they don't have strong opinions yet but are curious about a topic, can you get them a book? For example, if the 14 y/o loves computers, you could get them something AI related. I really liked Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies in high school, even though a lot of it went over my head. Less-technical high schoolers might prefer a book of philosophy, psychology, or fiction. (I know very little about kids younger than high school, but surely there are equivalents!)

Otherwise if you're just going to get a physical gift from donating to a charity that your niblings don't particularly care about, I'd prioritize that object also being something they would like independently of the donation. (ex. a cool bracelet they can wear to school, a classy notebook if they like to write, whatever)

Hot take: For posts not involving breaking news that may benefit from cooler reflection, the Forum should trial allowing a poster to petition the mods for a quiet period of 1 to 7 days before comments are allowed. This would need to be done pre-posting and a header would need to appear at the top of the post. For example, I think discussion on the Doing EA Better post would have benefitted from a quiet period.

I'm hesitant to extend the trial to breaking news because the risk of the delay being viewed as mods cutting off discussion is higher, and because I think people have a stronger interest in being able to promptly discuss stuff that happens externally to the Forum. Finally, no one "owns" breaking news, and the requirement for both the post author + a mod to concur is a safeguard against erroneous imposition of quiet periods.

I have thought about this, but concluded it had a big problem, which is commenters would just write their own top-level posts in response (rather than giving the original post a huge first mover advantage). I don't think recent drama would have been improved by a proliferation of top-levels.

Random thoughts on grants (inspired by some recent posts):

  • Do (m)any grantmakers offer participation grants for certain unsuccessful grant applicants who submitted grants in good faith, to (help) defray the time and expense of applying? I briefly floated this idea at the end of a discussion about grants in medium-income countries, and I think it ties into a recent discussion about compensating applications for work trials to some extent.The grant-seeker and the grant-maker are semi-cooperatively producing a joint product of sorts -- a good grant portfolio. Both incur costs to make that product happen. It seems that common practice is that the grant-seeker and the grant-maker both bear their own costs for unsuccessful grants, but I can't think of any a priori reason that should be case vs. a potentially more satisfactory allocation of the burden. 
  • And in the recent discussion about work tests, the consensus was that job applicants should be (and generally were) compensated for trial tasks that took a few hours -- even though many of those tasks are standardized and thus do not have any substantive value for the would-be employer. Rather, they only have value to the semi-cooperative joint product of hiring the best employee. Even though both candidate and employer benefit from that process, we have (correctly, in my view) decided that the employer should bear more of the costs of the matching process by compensating the candidate for work trials.
  • Providing some minimal compensation for most unsuccessful applicants would presumably encourage more grant applications among the group to whom the offer was extended. The initial suggestion was to presumptively give such compensation to applicants from low/middle-income countries for various reasons, but one could imagine other objectives for selectively boosting applications (e.g., trying to encourage more applications among groups underrepresented in EA).
  • In my field (law), the court can kick out your case-initating document in a few different ways. That can include "with prejudice" (i.e., there is a fatal flaw that you can't fix), "without prejudice" (i.e., you may be able to fix the weakness and can try again), or without prejudice to refiling after a certain event (e.g., you didn't follow the proper process at the administrative agency but can come back after you complete those). For grantmakers who don't want to offer more complete feedback, even knowing which of those categories a rejection generally falls into would be helpful, e.g.:
    • We just don't think this is a viable idea absent a significant change in circumstances. You should consider moving on to another one.
    • We don't think you are the right person for this idea. You should consider moving on to another one.
    • We think you need more experience. Consider reapplying once you have it.
    • There's nothing  wrong with this grant proposal, it just didn't quite clear the funding bar this year (although it might have in prior years and might in future years).

Re: participation grants - I don't know if I like the suggestion or not, but I want to point out that it's significantly different from compensation on work tasks, in that paid work tasks are not the first stage of a hiring process. So orgs have control over who gets to do the work task to begin with. This probably reduces the number of people only doing it for that compensation, if not eliminating those entirely. With participation grants, this is IMO a problem you'll encounter.

Agreed -- I tried to account for this with weasel words like "most," "good-faith," and "presumptively." 

I know at least one of the prize contests this year offered participation prizes for good-faith submissions (e.g., GiveWell awarded 39 $500 participation prizes). I would be curious whether the judges felt there were a bunch of submissions that seemed engineered to just garner one of those prizes. 

My hunch is the compensation-seeking problem is manageable if the grants are modest; it would be tricky for someone to figure out how to do enough to clear the good-faith/serious application bar while working quickly enough to make compensation-seeking an attractive approach. Presumably, there would be one participation grant per lifetime, unless the applicant was given specific encouragement to reapply on a prior round and reasonably addressed any suggestions given. Also, I wouldn't be opposed to the grantmaker compensating for somewhat less than the value of the applicant's time -- both as a means of discouraging compensation-seeking, and because it's not unreasonable for the would-be grantee to bear some of the costs of the joint product.


Edit: typo, should be not UNreasonable

Today's shower thought: When strong downvoting a post, one should be required to specify a reason for the strong downvote (either from a list, or through text entry if no pre-made reason fits). These reasons should be publicly displayed, but not linked to individual voters. [Alternative: They should be displayed to the commenter who is being downvoted only.] This is not intended to apply to strong disagreevotes.

Getting downvoted isn't fun, and I've seen a number of follow-up comments recently along the lines of "why am I being downvoted for this?" Right now, we generally don't provide any meaningful feedback for people who are being downvoted. In some cases (including some where I didn't vote at all), I've tried to provide feedback -- e.g., that particular language could be seen as  "premature and unfriendly without allowing [an organization] time for a response" -- which I hope has been sometimes helpful. But I'm wondering whether there is a broader way to give people some feedback.

The other reason that I think a reasons-giving requirement might make sense is that it serves as a tiny stop-and-think moment. It interrupts the all-too-human tendency to reach for the strong-downvote icon when one viscerally disagrees with a post, and reminds the user what the generally appropriate reason for strong downvotes are.

Interesting if it was possible to quickly pick between common reasons, but don't agree it should be required

Does anyone have a sense of the volume of EA donations made to funds in a non-tax-advantaged way?

I see GWWC's recommendation to generally give to funds even if not tax-advantaged, but I wonder if there is a better solution around the problem for everyone other than the government -- at least in Global Health & Development. (I don't know other cause areas well enough to opine.)

AMF is tax-deductible in a lot of places. All GWWC recommended GH&D funds are ultimately powered by GiveWell at their core. Even All Grants is expected to send 75% to one of the four top charities. Given AMF's status as a GiveWell top charity, it's safe to say that a lot of money will flow through GiveWell to AMF.

It would seem advantageous to have a simple way in which a donor could tell GiveWell and AMF: "I have $1000 that I would like to give to GiveWell Top Charities Fund (or whatever), but I am hereby giving it directly to AMF for tax reasons rather than only being able to afford $700 to GiveWell. Please compensate." GiveWell could then treat (say) $850 of those monies as akin to an advance grant payment to AMF, and reduce a future grant by that amount. (Alternatively, if it were seen as important for the money to go only to GiveWell-endorsed efforts, AMF could agree to park $850 of the donation in a safe investment until GiveWell "grants" that money as part of its normal grants process.)

The end result is that AMF is $150 better off than if the donor had given directly to GiveWell, as it received $1000 from the donor instead of $850 from GiveWell. The GiveWell fund is $150 better off too -- it lost a $700 contribution from the donor but got "credited" for an $850 grant to AMF, leaving $150 more to distribute to other organizations than in the donor-to-GiveWell scenario.

Whether the operations setup would be worthwhile depends on amount of tax-disadvantaged monies flowing into the GH&D funds.

(I am aware of the donation swap and actually have some active offers to swap at the moment to help out non-US donors. However, the approach above doesn't require finding compatible counterparties, and allows money flows to ultimately track the fund's allocation  that is what is desired. My example has an even split of the "surplus" between AMF and the fund, but that was for simplicity rather than an expression of my position. Finally, one could use a different charity as the partner, but I think AMF is the most widely-deductible GiveWell Top Charity and so would cover more donors for a fixed amount of work.)

Does anyone know if this notice that FTX is writing entities to ask for return of donations is limited to political contributions? That seems to be the focus, but I'm not sure why the estate wouldn't seek return of all donated funds at this time.

Based on some recent discussions of "passive philantrophy," I am wondering if there are circumstances in which people spend money at cross purposes and might be agreeable to offset their monies and donate them to an effective charity instead. One possible example follows.

In any US political campaign where the candidates/parties have roughly equal funding resources, the utility of donating $1 to my preferred candidate is roughly equal to the utility of depriving the opposing candidate of $1. Stated another way, if I donate $100 to a SuperPAC boosting Candidate X, and you donate $100 to one boosting her opponent Candidate ~X, $200 gets essentially wasted because the donations' effect cancels each other out.

Would it be possible to develop a website that attempts to capture this "wasted" money and route it to an effective charity? Ideally, if X boosters committed $1200 and ~X boosters committed $1000, the website would send $200 to the SuperPAC boosting X and send the other $2000 to an effective charity. I wonder if there could even be a way to get a tax writeoff for the people whose money got send over to the effective charity (campaign contributions usually are not tax-deductible). 


(1) Campaign finance law is complex, so no guarantees there! 

(2) Donors would have to feel confident that someone wasn't gaming the system. For instance, if I was indifferent to American politics but wanted to support the effective charity, I could basically double my donation by committing funds to the candidate who was behind on the website. I suppose that only netting 50% would solve that problem if no better solution could be found. Back to the hypo, X's SuperPAC would get $700, ~X's SuperPAC would get $500, and the effective charity would get $1000. 

(3) This could potentially backfire and lead to more money flooding into American politics, although my late-night ideas are usually not popular enough to have effects of that magnitude. :)

(4) To the extent that big donors contribute for influence rather than for ideological reasons, this probably wouldn't work (although maybe they get a certificate certifying that they destroyed/offset $Y of the opponent's funds that they could peddle for influence?)

Hadn't to my knowledge (but I can't rule out the possibility that I had seen it in previous forum lurking a while ago and just don't remember). One conscious trigger, at least, was hearing about how SBF and others at FTX gave tens of millions to different parties and shaking my head at the waste (this was before the origin of those funds was fully known).

Caveat: I am a lawyer but am not speaking with any real assessment of the merits beyond a skim of the FEC letter back in 2015. The viewpoint below is based on general principles of civil litigation strategy and is not something anyone should actually rely on without talking to a campaign-finance expert.

My initial reaction to the threat of legal challenges, if someone thinks there is enough potential value here, is to commit to funding this appropriately and just let them sue. If you were particularly worried about litigation, set it up the first time so that the only candidate pair is from the general-election presidential race. That should sharply limit the number of entities that have Article III standing to file a lawsuit, maybe just to the candidates and their campaign committees themselves. Make one of them risk the negative publicity of filing a lawsuit to shut down a non-profit website that was benefitting impoverished people in Africa. In any event, do not set up a pair in a House or Senate race where one of the candidates is a sure loser (who makes a good sacrificial lamb for a political party that wants the website shut down) or a clear winner (who can probably risk a reputational hit).

In a sense, this creates a bifurcation of risk -- there's a risk the website just doesn't catch on, and a risk of litigation, but probably a low risk of both at the same time. What rational candidate is going to commit money to litigation to secure an a small amount of additional funds for themselves when: (1) the amount isn't that much; (2) they alone bear optics/PR risk; (3) their opponent gets the exact same benefit they get without incurring any of the costs? For litigation to make sense, you'd either need to believe the amount of money coming through this site was going to be pretty significant, or would need to believe that the marginal benefit of an extra dollar to your campaign was much greater than for your opponent.

Next, any litigation would likely be -- like many election-related challenges -- only practically winnable in accelerated proceedings. With a favorable FEC opinion letter, few district judges would grant emergency relief to a litigant like a temporary restraining order. In ordinary litigation, the federal courts can take a while to get around to deciding whether to grant a preliminary injunction.  Would a judge be inclined to put this high on their priority list? Depends on the judge, but I think it would only get priority if pretty successful. The ship may well have sailed by then -- and note that a decision by a district court is often not a particularly effective weapon for other litigants who want to sue you in future elections. (For the lawyers, if there is a concern about offensive collateral estoppel, I think the solution is for the next attempt to be with a different, unrelated non-profit with whom the first non-profit is not in privity.)

If the court did grant a preliminary injunction, I would ask the court to (1) require the organization to pass through 100% of funds to both sides, but (2) require the opposing party to post an injunction bond in the amount lost to charity [at least to its own candidate]. Injunction bonds aren't required as often as I think they should be, but it would be worth a shot. Alternatively, you could ask that the organization be allowed to continue but required to lock up the money pending final judgment.

I'd also consider whether to stick a nice "poison pill" in the user agreement. Suppose that there were an adverse litigation outcome -- what should happen to the money? You could try adding a provision that it has to be returned to the donors, attempting to deprive the plaintiff of any concrete benefit from winning the suit in the first place. They would be no better off, unless and until their would-be donors chose to give them the money. And, if I were a candidate, I would be worried that some percentage of my donors would be annoyed at my litigation antics and that my opponent's donor re-gift rate would be higher.

I suspect Professor Zolt didn't move forward in part because (if I understand correctly) his for-profit entity was going to be funded by a tiny sliver of the funds flowing through the entity.  That's probably not enough revenue to justify defending this in litigation. On the other hand, if the monies were going to something like GiveDirectly (more legible) or AMF, the EA community "captures" the vast majority of the value of the offset funds. So the community should more willing to accept a quarter-million in expected litigation costs if the idea has upside to drive at least several times that to effective charities.

Finally, a less effective but potentially "safer" way to do something along the same lines would be to form a SuperPAC. I am reminded of the one Stephen Colbert did back in his Colbert Report days as a parody of the campaign-finance system. That's a much harder attack surface, as the main attraction of SuperPACs is that they are  . . . unregulated.

I would have to check whether a SuperPAC can donate to another SuperPAC, which would be an easy way of getting rid of the non-netted funds. Simply returning the non-netted funds might be another option. Actually running ads would be awkward. Colbert donated most of the proceeds of his super-PAC to non-political charities when he dissolved it, so shipping the netted funds to the chosen charit(ies) at the end of the election shouldn't be a problem. The biggest downside of this approach, in addition to probably being less legible to would-be donors, is that donations to a superPAC definitely are not tax-deductible (vs. I don't know if netted donations to something like I originally suggested would be).