Apr 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Pelosi PAC blasted for meddling in Oregon primary

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is seen gesturing with her hands during a news conference.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The political action committee linked to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is being criticized for pouring nearly $1 million into a TV ad campaign for a little-known, first-time candidate in a nine-way Democratic House primary still forming.

Why it matters: Unlike several others running for Oregon’s 6th District seat, that candidate, Carrick Flynn, has never held political office. And his nascent political career has been bankrolled by a cryptocurrency billionaire who’s given him a huge advantage by putting roughly $6 million behind his campaign, so far.

  • Numerous Democrats were prompted to run after Oregon's redistricting process created a new district viewed as a sure win for the Democratic Party.
  • The endorsement of a white male has also angered Latino and other minority groups who took heart from the PAC's pledge to support diverse candidate fields.
  • Flynn's campaign manager told Axios in a statement the campaign’s message “is clearly resonating, not only here in the 6th District, but with national advocates for pandemic preparedness, equity and voter engagement and Democratic leaders across the nation.”

Driving the news: The House Majority PAC — which is aligned with Pelosi and says it’s, “the only PAC focused exclusively on electing Democrats to the U.S. House of Representatives” — has been getting called out by Democrats across the party for this primary meddling.

  • Some see it as spending against other Democrats in the race by spending in favor of one — especially when those who've held local office are trying to move up the political ladder.
  • Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) tweeted Tuesday: "I haven't endorsed in this race, but it's flat-out wrong for House Majority PAC to be weighing in when we have multiple strong candidates vying for the nomination."
  • In a statement, House Majority PAC communications director C.J. Warnke said the group believes "supporting Carrick Flynn is a step toward" securing the House in November.

The big picture: Others privately raise what this means for commitments made by Democratic leaders to party diversity.

  • Critics point to the composition of Oregon's 6th District (roughly 20% Latino) and the national Democratic Party’s broader rhetorical commitments to improving diversity within its ranks — particularly among Latinos.
  • There are three women of color in the primary, including two Latinas.
  • The House Majority PAC has made significant investments in Hispanic candidates and districts during the past two cycles, including $19 million on Hispanic candidates in six competitive races in 2018.

Battle lines: The political campaign arm for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC BOLD PAC) condemned the House Majority PAC's move.

  • It said in a statement it "stands in contrast to the thinking of a majority of Democrats who know that Latino candidates and voters must be taken seriously for the midterm elections."
  • CHC BOLD PAC issued an early endorsement of one of the other Democrats, state Rep. Andrea Salinas, saying it hoped she could energize Latino voters during an off-year election when turnout is typically lower.
  • Salinas has amassed over 80 endorsements, thus far, from members of Congress, local leaders and national political and labor groups, including Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

What they’re saying: “It was a complete surprise, and it felt like a huge slap in the face not only to me, but to the people backing me,” Salinas told Axios.

  • She said that the endorsement/support opportunity from the House Majority PAC "was not something made widely available."
  • She also said she thinks the group "needs to defend the House seats we have, and shouldn’t have interfered in a nine-way primary at all.”
  • Pelosi's campaign office referred Axios to the House Majority PAC for any comment.

Between the lines: Protect Our Future PAC, a new group launched this cycle by billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of the crypto firm FTX, has pledged to spend $10 million on the 2022 elections.

  • Nonetheless, it's already committed over half of its pledged donations to Flynn alone.
  • That total is also three times the amount it's spending on Rep. Lucy McBath's re-election in a more high-profile Democrat-on-Democrat House primary in Georgia.

What we're hearing: Some in Oregon politics — like Robin Logsdon, campaign manager for one of the other candidates in this race — have suggested there was a backdoor deal between Bankman-Fried and the House Majority PAC.

  • “Do I know exactly what was exchanged by his people and [House Majority PAC’s] people?” Logsdon said to Oregon Public Broadcasting. “No, but I can speculate, as can everyone, that promises have been made.”
  • Bankman-Fried agreed to a request for an Axios reporter to contact him but did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Flashback: During the 2020 presidential election, Bankman-Fried approached Future Forward USA, a super PAC linked to one of Facebook's co-founders.

He "gave more than $5 million to Biden and groups supporting him, which helped fuel a nine-figure, eleventh-hour blitz of TV advertising," according to a New York Magazine profile of the crypto-currency magnate.

  • Bankman-Fried saw that as "the most efficient way to make an impact," the magazine wrote.

Editor’s note: This story had been updated with comment from the Flynn campaign.

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