Disclaimer: I lead grantmaking for biosecurity and pandemic preparedness at Open Philanthropy, but this endorsement is written in a purely personal capacity.
Carrick Flynn is running for congress in Oregon’s 6th district as a Democrat. He is also the first person to ever run for US congress on a platform of preventing future pandemics. This campaign provides a rare opportunity for smaller donors to make a large impact, since political contributions are capped at $5,800 per person ($2,900 for the primary and $2,900 for the general, but you can donate both up front).
His campaign website is here, launch video here, and donation link is here. Only US citizens and permanent residents can donate. The campaign also needs volunteers and staff (more details at the bottom of this post).
Carrick is a close personal friend and somebody I have enormous admiration for. I’ve worked with him since 2015, when he came to Oxford and subsequently set up the Centre for the Governance of AI. His wife Kathryn Mecrow-Flynn is also amazing, being the founder and CEO of Magnify Mentoring (formerly WANBAM).
Carrick embodies a number of virtues that I want to briefly highlight, and his story is remarkable. He grew up in poverty in rural Oregon, in an abusive household. A flood left him homeless as a child, and he shared a mattress on the floor with his brother until he was 17.
These experiences drove him to help others in poverty. After graduating from the top law school (Yale), he disregarded lucrative career opportunities to work in international development. In India, he saved potentially thousands of lives by clearing a roadblock to a nationwide vaccination program. He also secured a court decision that reallocated over $1 billion to high impact health programs by manually going through over 1,000 pages of accounting documentation.
This is just one instance of Carrick’s determination and work ethic. At Oxford he worked harder than almost anybody else I knew—in fact, out of everybody I’ve worked with in the past decade, my time in Oxford with Carrick would put him in the top 5 people I’ve seen in terms of raw work ethic.
He’s also brilliant. I’ll skip shallow measures of this and just say that I saw Carrick’s intellect firsthand when he pivoted to thinking about pandemic preparedness during COVID. There he would rapidly digest information and connect it to what needed to be done. He’s likely the only person running for congress who has nuanced opinions on pathogen sequencing, platform vaccine tech, and what should go into the strategic national stockpile.
Finally, many people who are as brilliant and driven as Carrick are assholes, and Carrick is emphatically not. He is one of the most warm, caring, and supportive people I know. He cares for animals too, and he and his wife are vegan (and not in an asshole-like way).
I also know that Carrick is fiercely loyal. If he wins, his constituents in Oregon will have a representative that takes this duty seriously and puts their interests above his own.
The importance of a champion in Congress
After 9/11, the U.S. government spent over $1 trillion on counterterrorism to ensure something similar wouldn’t happen again. After losing almost 900,000 lives and $7.6 trillion in economic damage to COVID, what do you think Congress is doing to prevent the next pandemic?
The Biden administration released a fantastic $65 billion plan that aims to prevent future pandemics. Congress has funded practically none of it. Part of the problem is that nobody in congress has made pandemic preparedness a ‘core issue.’ Congressional members don’t oppose the president’s plan, and there are some standout champions, but none of them are trying to get it passed with the desperation that I think the issue warrants.
Carrick will make this a priority, and has committed to devoting a full time staff member to focus on pandemic preparedness issues. Realistically he won’t be able to change much overnight as a junior member, and the majority of his impact would only come years in the future. Still, even if this results in only a 1-in-500 counterfactual chance of eventually getting something as impactful as the $65 billion through, that’s still over $100 million of pandemic preparedness spending in expectation (which I believe is substantially more well-spent than typical government spending).
What a donation of $2,900 means
I was recently told that congressional candidates typically spend more than half of their campaign time on the phone calling people and asking for money. This strikes me as insane and sad, and I would much rather Carrick spend his time listening to voters and developing smart policy.
The campaign has an informal target of raising $1 million for the primary, which is the level of funding required for them to stop thinking about money (they’ve already raised over $200,000 before launching). The maximum primary donation is $2,900, so the campaign needs to reach only 300 more people to donate the maximum amount. If you are a US citizen or permanent resident and privileged enough to be able to donate this much, you could be one of these 300!
(I know smaller donations are also sincerely appreciated!)
What does the donation do? As a conservative lower bound, I think instantly hitting the fundraising target would free up over 250 hours of work from Carrick, and I think those 250 hours would increase the chances of him winning the election by more than 2% (I’m assuming a counterfactual in which they still raise the money but it takes more time and effort). Taking these numbers ($1 million for an additional 2% chance of winning) means that roughly speaking you should donate if you think Carrick winning the election would produce more good things in the world than $50 million worth of donations. Given what I know about Carrick and the fact that Congress spent almost $5 trillion last year, I feel like this should be an easy bar to clear (a factor of 100,000 over the $50 million mark).
I’m posting this in a community of people that take charitable giving seriously. Recently, large funders like Open Phil have made it harder for smaller donors to find outstanding opportunities to contribute. My personal giving pledge has sometimes felt like an afterthought since joining Open Phil, so I was proud to be able to finally donate in a situation where my donation wasn’t replaceable. It may have been the most impactful $5,800 I will ever spend on preventing pandemics!
Or… volunteer for the campaign!
The campaign also needs volunteers and staff. If you’re interested in helping out, email firstname.lastname@example.org and let them know. I think they are most interested in volunteers who can call voters and spend time in Oregon, anybody with campaign experience, and people who can organize fundraisers (although my hope is that the fundraisers will be out of a job quickly, thanks to you!).
But if you happen to care about stuff like this, Carrick got a 99.6th percentile LSAT score. ↩︎
Due to diminishing returns, this isn’t the same as being worth $100 million of biosecurity spending. But it doesn’t feel like more than a factor of 10 reduction, e.g. I would prefer a 1-in-500 chance of getting $65 billion rather than a sure chance of getting an additional $10 million. ↩︎
This is probably as good a place as any to mention that whatever people say about this race could very easily get picked up by local media and affect it. As a general principle, if you have an unintuitive idea for how to help Carrick's candidacy, it might be an occasion to keep it to yourself, or discuss it privately. Generally, here, on Twitter, and everywhere, thinking twice before posting about this topic would be a reasonable policy.
This is completely correct. Oregonians are certain to wonder why a political unknown can acquire support on this website.
And then they can read the post above to have that question clearly answered!
I don't know Carrick very well, but I will be pretty straightforward that this post, in particular in the combination with the top comment by Ryan Carey gives me a really quite bad vibe. It seems obvious to me that anyone saying anything bad right now about Carrick would be pretty severely socially punished by various community leaders, and I expected the community leadership to avoid saying so many effusively positive things in a context where it's really hard for people to provide counterevidence, especially when it comes with an ask for substantial career shifts and funding.
I've seen many people receive genuine references in the EA community, many of them quite positive, but they usually are expressed substantially more measured and careful than this post. This post reads to me like a marketing piece that I do not trust, and that I expect to exaggerate at many points (like, did Carrick really potentially save "thousands of lives"? An assertion thrown around widely in the world, but one that is very rarely true, and one that I also doubt is true in this case, by the usual EA standards of evidence).
I don't know Carrick, and the little that I've seen seemed positive and... (read more)
I think there's a bit of a misunderstanding - I'm not asking people to narrowly conform to some message. For example, if you want to disagree with Andrew's estimate of the number of lives that Carrick has saved, go ahead. I'm saying exhibit a basic level of cultural and political sensitivity. One of the strengths of the effective altruism community is that it's been able to incorporate people to whom that doesn't always come naturally, but this seems like a moment when it's required anyway.
Yeah, my reading of your comment was in some ways the opposite of Habryka's original take, since I was reading it as primarily directed at people who might support Carrick in weird/antisocial ways, rather than people who might dissent from supporting him.
That's...a lot of karma.
Yeah, I had a chat with Ryan via PM as well, and it does seem like I interpreted him as saying something more strong than he had intended to say. So for anyone else who might have had a similar feeling, hopefully this thread is a useful clarification.
I think you are interpreting RyanCarey's comment as silencing of dissent. This seems unfair to me.
I thought RyanCarey's comment was sort of specifically wincing about people saying specific weird things, like speculating about certain kinds of coordination or suggesting certain faculty with politics.
Given how snippets can be used unfairly (see /r/sneerclub) and also considering whatever is going on in American politics, this concern seems valid.
The comment seems orthogonal to frowning on dissent about the candidate or supporting elections in general.
I think writing a caution can be difficult. You don't want to be get specific, and sounding overly worried is counterproductive.
Dropping a quick comment to say I've upvoted this and might respond with more later. I do concede the claim about thousands of lives was not throughly scrutinized and I'm getting more info on that now (and will remove if it doesn't check out). I otherwise stand by what I've written and also think Oli has worthwhile points.
Update: after discussing and looking at some background documentation with Oli, we think the claim about ‘potentially thousands of lives’ is sufficiently supported.
Lately I've had two minor unrelated experiences where I have been recommended to not say what I believe straight up out of fear of being misunderstood by people outside the community.
I think on the margin the community is too concerned with reacting to "what people might think" instead of their actual reactions.
I see where you're coming from with this general heuristic, but I'm less sure how applicable the heuristic is to this context. In most cases, it seems right to ask, "How will a random person react if they hear X, if they randomly stumble across it?" But given the adversarial nature of politics, the more relevant question here might be, "How will a random person react if they hear X, if it's presented however an adversary wants to present it?" And my intuition is that the latter question, when it's very relevant, warrants lots more caution in public communications (while high openness is still great in certain private communications).
[disclaimer: acting director of CSER, but writing in personal capacity]. I'd also like to add my strongest endorsement of Carrick - as ASB says, a rare and remarkable combination of intellectual brilliance, drive, and tremendous compassion. It was a privilege to work with him at Oxford for a few years. It would be wonderful to see more people like Carrick succeeding in politics; I believe it would make for a better world.
I donated $5800.
I also donated $5,800. Thanks Andrew for making this post – this seems like a somewhat rare opportunity for <$10k donations to be unusually impactful
I also donated $5,800 (though not due to this post).
I appreciate your spreading the word about this campaign, but I'm not comfortable with the EA Forum being heavily used for political campaigning. Per this policy, "posts advocating for or against a specific political candidate" should be in the Personal Blog category.
Given there's a clear policy already, it should definitely be followed!
Thanks for flagging, I missed this and agree this should be in blog category per the policy. Will chat with mods to figure out how to fix.
To close the loop, I'm noting here that this was changed roughly a day after Evelyn's comment came in. Thanks, all!
I donated $5800 and recommend this highly to people looking for impactful individual donations.
I had hoped that someone with Carrick's background in biosecurity would eventually make it to national office, but I hadn't expected there to be a serious chance of it this year!
I don't know him, but I really want Carrick in Congress. I think donating to his campaign is a not-unreasonable thing to do as a hits-based-giving-opportunity, since it would be great for him to be in the House...
...but I don't think most readers of this post would appreciate how unlikely he is to win. People who would be great politicians often aren't great candidates. Unless there's relevant private information (e.g., he's expecting endorsements from major Democrats), it's quite unlikely that Carrick—whose name isn't known in the district and who doesn't have government experience—will get more votes in the Democratic primary than the candidates with name recognition, state government experience, and endorsements from many state government officials. (And if he doesn't win, marginal performance in a failed House primary isn't very helpful to future pursuits.) I wish I knew how Carrick plans to win: I wish we lived in the world where you could win elections just by dazzling voters with your policy chops, but we don't.
I'm an elections junkie. I wish I could vote for Carrick, and I really hope he wins. But I would not feel comfortable recommending others donate or volunteer until hi... (read more)
I think Carrick has a decent shot, since he is running for a new seat (no incumbent), grew up in the district, has a compelling personal narrative (escaping poverty and then choosing a life of service), and doesn’t seem to be facing any extremely strong competitors. But, because he’s new to Oregon politics, he does need to raise a lot of money to attract the attention and support of local stakeholders and supporters.
We should probably quantify "decent". >10%? >50?
Thanks for the question, JP, it's always good to define those probabilities. I personally estimate his chance of winning to at least 30% (and going to 50%) due to Carrick's fit, the unusually good fundraising, and the excellent campaign team. This is probably not one for people who want a definite win - it's so much at play. However, I am very enthusiastic about Carrick's potential for a very large impact and think it's worth the shot.
Disclosure: my partner is working on Carrick's campaign. But I also chose to donate $2900 before she was involved with the campaign. I was persuaded by the fact that small dollar donations are particularly useful in elections, which have individual donation caps. Also, if you're primarily interested in funding longtermist projects, I don't think there's much need for small dollar donors in other domains given how much big donors are focusing on LT.
I think Carrick has at least a 20% chance based on conversations with relevant domain experts. He's leading in fundraising, which I expect to continue. Fundraising is more important to electoral success the more obscure the race is, and house primaries are the most obscure federal elections there are. He also got ~10k Twitter followers in a few days and has 10x more than Salinas (his top competitor IMO). I know Twitter isn't real life, but it speaks to a strong network and savvy comms, which matter a lot in campaigning.
Salinas was appointed to her state rep position and has never won a competitive election. She has strong endorsements, and I think is still probably the candidate most likely to win based on name recogniti... (read more)
Here is a synopsis from Primary School, a newsletter focused on democratic primaries. It's kind of annoying to dig through their posts for the hard to see "see full post" button so I'm copy and pasting them.
EDIT FEC Update 2/5/2022
Carrick Flynn says he raised $430,000 in the first 10 days. Salinas only raised $174,000 in two months. Money isn't everything in campaigns but that is kind of low for Salinas.
Tl;dr: Salinas seems like a strong candidate and solid progressive who is supported by the local party. I'd be interested in seeing her first fundraising numbers when they are out.
"Oregon Medical Board member Kathleen Harder raised $129,000 in the two months since she announced her campaign, which means she’s going to be a real part of this ever-widening field of candidates. In addition to her, state Rep. Andrea Salinas, former Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, and dueling pro-cryptocurrency self-funders Matt West and Cody Reynolds, a new candidate has entered: State Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon. Leon, who is in her second term in the state house, was mentioned as a potential candidate for this seat when it was first drawn, but stayed quiet about an... (read more)
Would you like to place numbers here? I'm at a pretty high probability personally, maybe more like 40% than your implied 5%.
He has several times more funding and twitter followers then his next nearest rival. There's more compelling media on his website and social media, including his video. His campaign team is unusually strong. Good credentials for congress (Yale Law, experience designing policy, grew up near the district) and a compelling life story. Also, good policies on pandemics and otherwise. So he's got better than one in five.
See Peter Gebauer’s comment above — do you think Carrick has a better chance than these competitors? Two crypto millionaires, two state reps, and a county commissioner. The three candidates with publicly available fundraising info now have $129K, $600K, and $2M (see above for which is which).
Seems like a tough field where Carrick would not be the favorite, but I don’t know much about the base rates here. Does anybody know more about the outcomes of similar races, preferably for Congressional seats between state politicians and well-credentialed political outsiders?
I was looking at the finances here, rather than at the banks of the crypto self-funders, which are admittedly larger. Carrick's ad is better than their ads. This one who has lent himself $2M has had like five previous failed runs, including runs with various minor parties - I don't think he has a serious chance. Carrick's funding position is much better than the two state reps. His story, team and social media presence is probably better than all opponents. He's not some sort of dark horse candidate.
I won't comment on their endorsements or strategy, but I will say that even if Carrick is a longshot it doesn't necessarily follow that it's a bad use of marginal dollars.
I am still finding myself on the fence about about this. It feels like a very exciting opportunity and worth the money, but there is a nagging part of me that says don't trust that emotional reaction. What really matters is whether it's better in expectation than saving a life or two. If anyone has done or is willing to do that calculation (or parts of it), I'd love to read it.
There are a lot of comments regarding his chances of winning, but less about what he could (or would be likely) to realistically accomplish if he were to gain office. This seems important.
I'd love to read an outside view take on what the range of accomplishments could be for a new representative without much political experience or party support.
Strongly agree. Haven't donated yet but could still be persuaded to. If there's a particular date by which donations would be more impactful, that would be helpful as well.
Is this only available to US citizens?
Yes (citizens and green card holders).
Awesome, are there any US citizens who would be happy donation swapping with me?
I'm a fan of donation swapping, but I don't think this is legal under US campaign finance law. (If someone else knows for sure, please tell us. Edit: Peter says it's not legal. Edit: Peter now only says it's illegal for non-Americans, but I also think it's illegal for Americans as a way to get around the individual contribution limit.)
Edit, meta: several people have downvoted Caleb's comment after he no longer endorsed it, and some have downvoted his reply too (both to below zero). This isn't right, epistemically or in terms of desert. Downvoting a retracted idea doesn't improve the conversation, and Caleb's comments are clearly good- and truth-seeking. If you want to punish the author for saying something that turned out to be unpopular, you should consider the effects of that policy (here and more generally) on the community's epistemic culture. See also Oliver's comment.
Edit: Caleb's comments are safely back in nonnegative territory, for now, but I'll leave the above note since it's still worth saying.
I think it would be pretty hard to argue that a donation swap didn't at least involve indirectly participating in someone's decision to donate.
It's not legal to receive donations directly or indirectly from foreign nationals for any US race, but volunteering and asking people to donate is okay.
I think this comment has significantly more negative karma than it did when I last saw it, by which point it was already unendorsed.
I think downvoting a comment once it's been unendorsed is very bad form, and creates bad incentives that work directly against what the unendorse feature is supposed to achieve. If I'm right that people have been doing this, I think they should stop, and preferably undo their votes.
(If people have been downvoting a comment after it was already unendorsed because they wanted it to get hidden-by-default, I think that's even worse.)
I'd endorse a feature where unendorsing a comment prevented further karma changes, or reverted karma to 0, or something. Probably there are important wrinkles here. But I'm in favour of the general class of thing I'm waving at.
Can we not perpetuate the idea that some vegans are 'asshole-like' just by avoiding eating animals/animal-products? I understand some vegans are less open to discussing their beliefs but I hate the idea that vegans are by default assholes as opposed to omnivores. A substantial amount of EAs are vegans and this phrasing really concerns me
I made an Elicit question about whether Carrick Flynn would win the primary. I'd like to get a better sense of how likely this is before donating.
Edit: I decided to donate $2,900.
Is there a place we can publicly track donations?
I would also like to know this. If there were some way to donate, conditional on him not already having "enough" (whatever that means) funds, that would be useful.
Some research on how foreign nationals can get involved (or not) in campaigns that will hopefully provide some clarity here:
... (read more)
- A foreign national can volunteer as long as they are not part of the campaign's decision-making apparatus. There are useful official sources. To start, there is the official Federal Election Commission guidance online. Here they outline that a foreign national can do anything as a volunteer as long as they are not part of the campaign's decision-making apparatus. So for example, a foreign national can express their opinion online about who to vote and who to donate for. Like, I don't have an arrangement with Carrick's campaign. This is explicitly permitted. This is below:
I came in with a negative predisposition because I really don't like politics and particularly US politics as a cause area. But nothing you are saying seems crazy, particularly given your endorsement and personal experience.
Historically, there have been ~24 Republicans vs ~19 Democrats as senators (and 1 independent) from Oregon, so partisan affiliation doesn't seem that important. "$1 million for an additional 2% chance of winning" seems a bit high on the probability side, but I'm not actually familiar with the money flows of US elections. Checking the money spent in past Oregon elections, it seems plausible. The upside of a few billions/tens of billions spent more effectively also seems about right, but the long tail could also be very positive.
My guess is that it seems very likely he will lose, but it seems worth it anyways; of 10-20 bets like this I sort of expect that a few will succeed. Recommendation: Defer to the author, donate. Optionally, I would also like to see a very liquid prediction market on his chances of success, and I estimate that would cost $5-$10k.
In addition to the fact that representatives aren't senators, looking to the distant past and other districts (not to mention total number of officials rather than number of elections won) is a bad way to predict elections. Based on recent elections, good election handicappers rate this seat Likely Democratic; if Carrick wins the primary, he will likely win the general election.
A better way of looking at this is the partisan lean of his particular district. The answer is D+7, meaning that in a neutral environment (i.e. an equal number of Democratic and Republican votes nationally), a Democrat would be expected to win this district by 7 percentage points.
This year is likely to be a Republican "wave" year, i.e. Republicans are likely to outperform Democrats (the party out of power almost always overperforms in midterm elections); however, D+7 is a substantial lean that's hard to overcome. I'd give Carrick a 75% chance of winning the general election conditional on winning the primary. His biggest challenge is winning the primary election.
In lieu of a liquid real-money market, I started a pair of Manifold markets for:
This is a really interesting effort and I'm excited to see where it goes. However, as Zach wrote, this seems like a fairly long shot effort. It's a crowded primary field and the other candidates have money and experience in Oregon state politics. I'd be very interested in reading a more detailed writeup on the state of the race, the strengths and weaknesses of the other candidates, and Flynn's plan for a path to victory. I'm not currently convinced that donating is a worthwhile use of money, but a good enough plan might change my mind.
Coverage of this post from The Hill on April 24th:
Sounds like good coverage! Though some of the local media is strongly against Carrick (1, 2, 3).
Separately, Oregon Guy deserves better from us. He's clearly an Oregon voter who is surprised to see m... (read more)
Ok, another piece came out today, in a little bigger venue than the WW:
I’m not sure how to say this, but if the Times calls me again, I’m going to say I don’t know you guys
Update: Wait, actually this thing is pretty good:
This piece seems like a net positive and is sort of promising. This balanced, factual piece is as good as you can expect. This is from a big paper and might he... (read more)
This post is as good a place for a Carrick open thread as any, so:
Carrick recently got $1.37M in ad support from Protect Our Future, Sam Bankman-Fried's PAC (source). This seems good; Carrick's campaign has relatively high marginal expected value per dollar.
(But money can't really buy US House elections, and crypto-billionaire-PACs come off as icky no matter how friendly SBF is (and earned media matters a lot more than ads, and it's possible that voters just hear the crypto-billionaire-PAC part), and I hope this wasn't a big part of Carrick's plan: I comme... (read more)
Summary: I am aware there are grassroots efforts from groups of individuals in effective altruism to support Carrick Flynn that exist independently of his campaign, or at least not officially affiliated with it. It's not evident in what way(s) this post may or may not be affiliated with Flynn's campaign. Yet I became aware of concerns among others in EA about how communications from active campaign supporters seem hasty and ambiguous. I present my similar experience below to inform further discussion.
I noticed this post when it was initially published a co... (read more)
I recognize this comment may not be received well here, but I think things like this are quite bad for EA to support -- there are very substantial political skew issues in the movement already, and running political candidates as a EA intervention seems like another step down a road I think the movement needs to quickly depart.
Have you considered writing a separate post about it? I can see significant upsides as well as downsides to EA (core) being more political and opinionated, so it might be worth discussing properly.
I would also be interested in hearing more thoughts/analysis on this. I can see two potential downsides:
A quick search doesn't bring up much on the forum about risks/benefits of EA becoming more political/fielding political candidates. I am considering posting a "Should EA field political candidates?" question to generate some discussion.
Does anyone know if such a thing already exists? Or see any downsides to posting it?
Oregon news media are reporting that far from limiting contributions, Carrick Flynn is raking in dough from SBF of FTX, whom Flynn claims to not know. Also it appears that Flynn has no experience as an elected office holder, which did not work out well with the previous U.S. President. I predict that Oregonians will not take kindly to campaign contributions originating from a site whose commentors don't know whether or not the political office sought is in the United States.