Some potential lessons from Carrick’s Congressional bid

post by Daniel_Eth · 2022-05-18T05:58:22.539Z · EA · GW · 97 comments

Contents

  Lesson 1: EAs can seriously compete for open congressional seats, and preparing to run well in advance of a race probably would significantly further improve the odds of winning
  Lesson 2: When running for Congress, having political experience and a good track record is very valuable – including if your campaign is backed up with lots of Super PAC donations
  Lesson 3: In Congressional races, more recent ties to the district/state matter much more than ties from long ago
  Lesson 4: If you think you might run for office in the future, make sure to vote in every election
  Lesson 5: EA candidates themselves may face bad press when running for office, as may the candidates’ large donors, but this doesn’t automatically translate into bad PR for EA as a community
  Lesson 6: As a Democratic candidate, being “the crypto guy” is a political liability; being tied to EA, not as much
  Lesson 7: Even among EAs, politics might somewhat degrade our typical epistemics and rigor – we should guard against this
  Conclusion
None
93 comments

The primary for Oregon’s 6th congressional district is now over, and it’s looking like Carrick is going to lose, coming in second out of nine candidates. That Carrick lost is a real shame. My sense is if Carrick had won, he could have done a lot of good – in particular, advancing pandemic prevention (e.g., via participating in bill markups), with an outside chance of getting Biden’s pandemic prevention plan enacted. As a silver lining, I think the value of information from this race was quite high, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the information this race provides will be valuable enough to EA that it outweighs the costs associated with the race.

First off, I want to applaud Carrick for taking the plunge and running; as a general rule, I think EAs should be more ambitious, especially in novel situations where the value of information is high, and it’s nice to see someone really following through with this. Carrick, his wife Kathryn, and their whole team put it in an enormous amount of work, faced many obstacles outside of their control, and withstood unfair public criticism, all in the service of improving the world.

Below are what I believe to be some of the more important lessons that we should take away from this race. For transparency sake, I started jotting down notes and sketching part of a draft of this piece before the day of the race – I didn’t write the piece entirely today. I also got feedback on this post from a few people in my network, and I strongly recommend others who plan on writing further posts on this topic similarly get feedback from other EAs before posting, in order to ensure that the post embodies community ideals, both to those reading it from within our community and those who may be looking in from the outside, especially right now as more external attention is being directed at EA. Personally, some of the feedback I got from others led me to rephrase certain things in ways I hadn’t considered and for which I think was helpful for reducing misunderstandings of EA.

 

Lesson 1: EAs can seriously compete for open congressional seats, and preparing to run well in advance of a race probably would significantly further improve the odds of winning

Yes, Carrick lost. But he came in second out of nine, despite several factors pushing pretty strongly against him. Had things shaken out differently on a few key factors, he could have won.

Here’s a partial list of factors that were pushing against Carrick:

• lack of local political connections, which led local political actors to strongly fight against him

• relative lack of practice/training in talking like a politician, which understandably led to politically costly misstatements

• running in a state that he had very recently moved back to (he moved back after COVID hit), which appears to have led to some skepticism

• a combination of the above factors led to unfavorable media coverage

• Salinas (the winner of the primary) benefitting from $1M of Super PAC money herself from BOLD PAC.
 

Most of the items on that list seem avoidable by any future EA candidate who preps for a political career far ahead of time instead of first beginning to think about running when a seat opens up – even the adversarial Super PAC spending (the least controllable item on the list) may be reduced by having better long-term relationships with the political community. For instance, if Carrick had held local office before running for the House, I think he would have been in a much stronger position for this race (I think he probably would have won). To be clear, this point is not a criticism of Carrick running for the House directly – I actually agree with the decision, given that Congressional seats only open up so often, and the value of information here was likely substantially larger than it would have been if he had just ran for a local position.

Meanwhile, I don’t think there were any factors of comparable size pushing in Carrick’s favor that couldn’t apply to other potential future EA candidates. Carrick’s most positive traits don’t seem to have mattered a ton in this election – Carrick seems unusually selfless and intelligent, even for an EA, but these don't seem to have been the largest deciding factors for most voters. Carrick is definitely more charismatic than some EAs, but he’s not unusually charismatic for an EA (see, for instance, this interview; also, sorry if including this point causes offense – I’m choosing to prioritize faithful assessment over tact).

So the fact that Carrick came in second, despite several (in the future, mostly avoidable) factors strongly pushing against him, and no comparable unique factors pushing in his favor, makes me more optimistic about the prospects of any future EAs who decide to run. To be concrete, my personal best guess is that >30% of American EAs would have at least a decent shot (say, >20%) of making it into Congress if they chose to dedicate themselves to their local community and spend time practicing the appropriate communication skills.

 

Lesson 2: When running for Congress, having political experience and a good track record is very valuable – including if your campaign is backed up with lots of Super PAC donations

Having a political track record is obviously helpful for showing voters what sort of policies you’ll pursue in office. Having political connections is further valuable, as politics is an inherently social process, and pre-existing relationships make it much easier to convince local party officials and other respected members of the community to endorse your campaign. The best way to prove to voters that you will work in their best interests is by having a track record of working in their best interests and having respected community leaders who can vouch for you.

I think these points are especially true if your campaign is backed up with large donations from Super PACs, as voters may otherwise be skeptical about your motives and more susceptible to speculations. In this campaign, both Carrick’s opponents and the local media semi-successfully portrayed Carrick as a crypto shill, despite Carrick (as far as I can tell) not caring much about crypto one way or the other, and actually caring a great deal about other issues such as pandemic preparedness. If Carrick had held local office previously and used his time there to advance policies for pandemic preparedness and expanding the social safety net (another one of the issues he campaigned on), I think voters and the local media would have been more trusting of his message, and, further, he would have been able to secure more local endorsements.

As another piece of data, SBF has also supported a number of other (non-EA) candidates across the country this cycle, all of whom have more political experience than Carrick. In several of these cases, the candidate SBF supported has either already won their primary or is very likely to win. In each of these races, the candidate’s opponent(s) have similarly tried to portray them as a tool of crypto, but these criticisms have mostly fallen flat, and in none of them did the local media play along in the same way they did here. While we can’t completely rule out that the differentiating factor here is the amount of money donated, I’m skeptical that this was the main factor – while SBF didn’t donate quite as much to other candidates as to Carrick, he still donated substantial sums (e.g., ~$2M to one candidate, ~$1 to four more), and, due to scope neglect, I’m skeptical that the emotional response to one or two million dollars donated is substantially different from that of ten million dollars donated. (I suppose it’s also possible that the relevant difference between Carrick and other candidates SBF supported here is actually more due to stochastic effects, in which case Carrick may have gotten “unlucky” while others got “lucky” – there may be something to this, though I’d be surprised if it was the main relevant difference.)

 

Lesson 3: In Congressional races, more recent ties to the district/state matter much more than ties from long ago

As far as I can tell, other than Carrick, none of the other candidates in the primary appear to have been born or grown up in Oregon (for instance, Salinas, the winner, doesn’t appear to have information about her childhood online, but she did attend UC Berkeley). Carrick, meanwhile, is originally from the area, and teachers from the local school remember him fondly.

Despite Carrick’s deeper roots to the area, his lack of more recent ties to the state caused him to be portrayed as a geographic outsider (Carrick moved back to Oregon in 2020). Meanwhile, none of his competitors appeared to suffer politically for not originally being from Oregon.

“Carpetbagger” is a dirty word in US politics – but apparently the way it applies today is to refer to people who recently moved to an area to run for office, without developing connections to the community. People who moved to an area long enough ago to develop real connections to the community evidently aren’t considered carpetbaggers – especially if they’ve already gotten involved in local politics.

The implication seems to be that if two potential candidates are deciding whether to run for office, one that’s recently moved back to their hometown, and another that, as an adult, has moved to an area they did not grow up in but have since become part of the community, the latter is will probably be in a better position to run, ceteris paribus.

 

Lesson 4: If you think you might run for office in the future, make sure to vote in every election

One of the main substantive attacks against Carrick was that he had only voted in 2 of the previous 30 elections. Now, I know Carrick was living overseas for much of that time so voting would have been a pain, and further that Oregon isn’t exactly a swing state, significantly decreasing the expected impact of his vote. Having said that, the optics here are still not great, and voting records are public information (whether or not you vote is public, the way you vote is obviously secret). Since voting is generally pretty low cost, I think that (barring incredibly extenuating circumstances) every EA that’s eligible to vote should vote.

 

Lesson 5: EA candidates themselves may face bad press when running for office, as may the candidates’ large donors, but this doesn’t automatically translate into bad PR for EA as a community

It’s no secret that both Carrick and SBF faced a fair bit of negative press throughout this campaign. I was surprised by the extent to which one local media outlet went after Carrick (not linking to them since I think it’s generally good for there to be a little bit of friction between someone posting negatively about a thing on the internet and their readers/followers descending on that thing – I’m sure you can find them if you want). While I think most of this negative press could be avoided in the future with proper precautions (e.g., being part of the local political community before running, running for local office in the district before Congress, etc, as mentioned above), we should obviously expect some negative press from running candidates, due to the inherently adversarial nature of party politics. One thing that I found interesting in this race, however, is the bad press didn’t seem to rub off much on EA as a whole.

I’ve heard people previously worry that running EA candidates may substantially worsen the reputation of the movement. I believe this race provides an update against this view. While Carrick faced a barrage of attacks from other candidates, as well as several hit pieces from a local media outlet, none of these attacks focused on EA – instead, they focussed on the crypto connection, money in politics, Carrick’s political inexperience, Carrick only recently having moved to the area, and things like voting record and political misstatements. Two major media pieces about the race were focused on EA, but both of them were mostly positive on EA (and, for that matter, neutral-to-positive on Carrick). 

In retrospect, I suppose it’s not that surprising that attacks focused on things other than EA. “Preventing pandemics” isn’t exactly particularly unpopular, and tying in EA to a political attack would add one more step of reasoning compared to more direct attacks; from a strategic perspective, it makes sense that competitors would instead highlight bigger and more direct political vulnerabilities or call into question motives, rather than highlighting the connection between Carrick and EA, and then attacking EA as a whole. Of course, none of this is a guarantee that future campaigns couldn’t trash EA’s reputation – but it is worth noting that in this race, that didn’t occur to any significant degree at all, even in a very heated primary, where, among other things, the local political machine lined up to try to take Carrick down.

 

Lesson 6: As a Democratic candidate, being “the crypto guy” is a political liability; being tied to EA, not as much

This point is a bit of the inverse of the above point. I’ve heard some EAs worry that a candidate being tied to EA would be a political nonstarter, with several potential reasons given: political candidates are supposed to represent their constituents and prioritize their country, so the cosmopolitan aspect of valuing all lives everywhere equally would end any campaign; veganism has a bad rap, most people intuitively think of vegans as weak/soft, and further the agricultural industry would lobby heavily to stop an EA candidate; heavy involvement in a niche subculture just seems weird, and EA has some weird beliefs; etc. Note how, if any of those lines of attack were particularly effective, they should have destroyed Carrick. Carrick previously has worked in Kenya, Liberia, Timor-Leste, India, Malaysia, and Ethiopia, helping people that were most definitely not American citizens. He is publicly vegan (as is his wife). He co-founded GovAI, and he’s published articles explicitly about the subject of superintelligent AI, with Nick Bostrom as co-author. There was also a very-highly-upvoted post [EA · GW] on the EA forum by a public-facing EA in good standing with the EA community, which used EA logic to recommend that EAs support Carrick (who, the post reminded everyone, is an EA) – and this post was picked up by the political media.

If ever there was a person that could be tied to EA, in exactly the ways that some have thought might sink EA political campaigns, Carrick should fit that bill. Yet none of those factors hurt his campaign at all (none led to negative press coverage, a couple of national media outlets had positive coverage of the EA connection, and his opponents didn’t seize on any of these points for attacks).

To be clear, none of those factors seem to have helped his campaign either, so to the few people I’ve previously heard argue that EA traits such as the selflessness might be attractive to voters (e.g., “accepting a low salary and donating much to charity would signal good things to voters”), well, that didn’t really happen. I just don’t think being tied to EA as a candidate has much effect one way or the other (at least it didn’t in a single Democratic primary in Oregon during 2022). 

On the other hand, the (much more tenuous in reality) crypto connection was a real negative – bigger than I would have thought ahead of time. As mentioned above, I think local political experience and connections would weaken that connection by, among other things, honestly and credibly signaling to voters priorities unrelated to crypto.

 

Lesson 7: Even among EAs, politics might somewhat degrade our typical epistemics and rigor – we should guard against this

I should start off by saying that I think many of the actions that EAs took surrounding this campaign were both positive in EV terms and well supported as such. I think the case [EA · GW] for small-dollar donations, for instance, was strong, and I personally maxed out my donation and made the case to many others to do the same. I also think it’s great that members of this community are generally supportive of each other's goals and want to help each other.

But some of the arguments that EAs took regarding supporting the campaign, especially as the election became closer, seemed less to be well reasoned by EA lights, and more to be simply emotionally motivated, out of something like a sense of tribalism or a desire to do something.

A lot of this is picking up on vibe, and it’s possible I’m misinterpreting things, but it felt like some of what some EAs were doing late on in the campaign was defended within the movement more on activist-y grounds than on truth seeker-y grounds.

As just one concrete point, a few times I saw EAs (while arguing for further support for Carrick) advance the claim that this race was likely to be very close, as predictit was giving Carrick and Salinas each ~50% odds (with the implication that actions that only very marginally helped Carrick could still be very high EV). While one possible interpretation of this datapoint is that the race was likely to be very close, another (in my opinion, more obvious) possibility was that the race was just very uncertain – after all, there weren’t very many polls, and those that did exist showed a large majority of voters not having coalesced around either Carrick or Salinas. I think that most EAs that were arguing the race would be very close would have, in other contexts, realized the other interpretation was the more likely one.

Insofar as our epistemics were momentarily weakened during the campaign, I don’t think this led to any terrible decisions. But I do think that, in any future political endeavors, we want to guard against emotional interests clouding rational analysis.

My sense is that the best defense against motivated political reasoning may simply be to be conscious of the biases, and to screen arguments a bit harder – especially as other people’s enthusiasm rises or as an election approaches.


Conclusion

I’m upset that Carrick lost. But I’m also happy that he ran. I think the information we can gain from his run is quite valuable. First off, I think this race showed that EAs have the ability to win Congressional seats, and that the downsides to pursuing these seats likely aren’t catastrophic if future candidates embody the best attributes of EA as Carrick does. Second off, I think the race yields many specific lessons about how to increase the chances of winning, as well as how to limit the downsides, and pitfalls to avoid.
 

97 comments

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comment by Carol Greenough · 2022-05-22T21:40:31.894Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

As someone deeply involved in politics in Oregon (I am a house district leader in one of the districts Flynn would have been representing, I am co-chair of the county Democratic campaign committee and I am chair of a local Democratic group that focuses on policy and local electeds and that sponsored a forum that Flynn participated in ) I feel that much of the discussion on this site about Carrick Flynn lacks basic awareness of what the campaign looked like on the ground.  I also have some suggestions about how the objectives you work for might be better achieved.

First, Flynn remained an enigma to the voters. In spite of more advertising than ever seen before in a race (there were often three ads in a single television hour program), his history and platform were unclear. While many of the ads came from Protect our Future PAC, Flynn had multiple opportunities to clarify these and failed.  Statements such as “He directed a billion dollars to health programs to save children’s lives and removed a legal barrier that may have cost several thousand more lives.” that was featured on his website led people to come to me and ask “What did he do to accomplish this?  Who was he working with? What does this mean?”  These contributed to the sense that this was a shadow figure with no substance.  

Second, Flynn made the mistake of assuming he could win a race with many qualified candidates.  He had a chance just because the vote was split so many ways, but he consistently appeared less engaged, less experienced, and less able to represent Oregonians.  His story of being a hard luck child had little resonance in a state where so many have lost so much to natural disasters in the last few years.  His assumption that, as a freshman Congressperson, he could sway Congress with little experience in that realm rang false.  Two of the candidates had worked for years as aides to congresspeople and touted their experience as a way that they could work to make a difference. In addition, the desire to elect a representative that reflected the diverse nature of our district - especially one that had a powerful back story of an immigrant father who gained citizenship through serving two tours of duty in Viet Nam - was powerful.  

The EA community seemed to have gotten excited about Flynn because of his emphasis on pandemic preparedness.  But, people in Oregon have multiple needs from their representatives and Salinas, who is serving her third term in the legislature and who has been a powerful champion for women’s health care, for environmental issues, for gun safety, for education, and for human rights among other issues, showed that she was able to understand and deliver on these issues.  Again, in example, Flynn just said that he would defend women’s reproductive rights, with no further elaboration on how to do that or what that meant. 

I am surprised that there was not more attention paid to the support Flynn had in Oregon.  FEC shows fewer than 10 contributions to Flynn’s campaign from non-family Oregonians.  This should have been an important indicator of support.  This can be contrasted to over 750 contributions from Oregonians, many of them small dollar amounts, to Salinas.  

In sum, Flynn may be a smart and kind man who  won some of the vote because he achieved massive name recognition at the cost of $1200 per vote, but lost significantly because he neither articulated a clear history and direction nor demonstrated a commitment or knowledge of Oregon.  In a smaller field, he would have lost even more by my assessment.  

In addition, the negative and clearly false advertising that Protect our Future PAC used when it appeared Flynn was losing went against many of the things people on this forum profess to have wanted from this election:

  1. It made government appear corrupt and inept - and that no good solutions could come from those who govern.  This makes it hard to assert that things like the pandemic can be addressed at the governmental level.
  2. It undercut the winner, Salinas, and increased the probability that the much less desirable candidate will win in the general election.
  3. It advanced, the practice of grainy dark pictures, untruths, and inappropriate use of information (such as calling a $250 contribution from a drug company in 2018 financing the Salinas campaign) which just subverts the electoral process.

Some 450 contributions were made to Flynn’s personal campaign from outside Oregon, many coming from followers of this forum, and many maxing out at the $5800 allowed for the primary and general election combined.  If that same money had been spent to reach out to future Rep Salinas to advance the cause of pandemic preparedness, I expect it would have been much more powerful.  

My reflection to those who were working with me in this election was “I love intelligent candidates and people who look broadly at the issues.  But this must be accompanied by humility or it becomes dangerous.”  I feel that this campaign, whether it was the candidate or the high spending PACs,  failed to achieve this humility.  

Replies from: Max_Daniel, AllAmericanBreakfast, nathan
comment by Max_Daniel · 2022-05-23T08:02:51.779Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for taking the time to share your perspective. I'm not sure I share your sense that spending money to reach out to Salinas could have made the same expected difference to pandemic preparedness, but I appreciated reading your thoughts, and I'm sure they point to some further lessons learned for those in the EA community who will keep being engaged in US politics.

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2022-05-23T06:47:27.263Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I strongly upvoted your post, and thanks for taking the time to write it.

I note that you’re effectively recommending a strategy of lobbying instead of electioneering in order to advance the cause of pandemic preparedness. Do you have data or personal experience to support the idea that lobbying is a more effective method than campaign sponsorship of aligned candidates to build political support for an issue?

Matt Lerner spent some time looking into lobbying for altruistic causes and posted about it on the EA forum. I appreciate his research, and would like to see more exploring the effectiveness of altruistic lobbying and how to do it well.

Link:

https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/K638s9L2wCEW78DEF/informational-lobbying-theory-and-effectiveness [EA · GW]

Replies from: Jamie, Carol Greenough
comment by Jamie · 2022-05-23T10:30:03.708Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Personally (though obviously Carol may disagree), I don't think that's necessarily the strategic takeaway from Carol's post. The value of electioneering vs. lobbying probably depends on the specifics of the districts and candidates. 

When an EA-oriented candidate has stronger ties to the district, a more robust political history, deeper local political connections, etc? Sure, the monetary value of donating to that candidate probably exceeds lobbying. .

But at the end of the day, none of those factors were remotely there for Flynn. 

As an aside, I grew up in OR-06 and still have a ton of connections there, and Carol's post is 100% spot-on. The only thing I'd add is that -- in the absence of clearly defining himself -- the fact he was backed by what appeared to be crypto did the defining for him. And in the context of a Dem primary, that's not a helpful association

comment by Carol Greenough · 2022-05-23T23:42:09.531Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

As someone who has both worked to elect candidates and who has lobbied at many levels, my experience is that lobbying can be quite effective if it is done with a candidate who shares your values and goals. I have done this mostly at the state level and find that, until they rise to a position of some power, candidates may not be able to achieve what they wish. In contrast to this, spending time with committee chairs who have much power over the agenda is quite effective, especially if you can establish yourself as a source of reliable information and policy directions. Both are valuable. Thanks for the article referral. I look forward to reading it. 

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2022-05-23T14:48:11.731Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for writing this Carol. 

To specifically flag this, I agree with you that I do not like the quoted behaviour at all. I do not think that EA or EA adjacent campaigns should be misrepresenting other candidates. It hurts ability to cooperate later and damages the democratic environment. Perhaps this is naive of me, but I think the cost from these behaviours in terms of reputation were greater than what they added. 

It advanced, the practice of grainy dark pictures, untruths, and inappropriate use of information (such as calling a $250 contribution from a drug company in 2018 financing the Salinas campaign) which just subverts the electoral process.

Beyond that, I'm not sure I agree that this was a huge miscalculation from Carrick. He took a risk and he lost. You describe him as "assuming he could win a race with many qualified candidates". I am unsure whether he thought he would probably win, but he thought it was worth a shot. And he didn't do terribly, but the people of Oregon chose a candidate they preferred, as is their right. To me, that seems to be how democracy works. 

comment by Matthew Yglesias · 2022-05-20T02:23:55.337Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is an excellent post, one slightly subtle point about the political dynamics that I think it misses is the circumstances around BoldPAC's investment in Salinas. 

BoldPAC is the superpac for Hispanic House Democrats. It happens to be the case that in the 2022 election cycle there is a Hispanic state legislator (Andrea Salinas) living in a blue-leaning open US House of Representatives  seat. It also happens to be the case that given the ups and downs of the political cycle, this is the only viable opportunity to add a Hispanic Democrat to the caucus this year. So just as it's basically happenstance the the EA community got involved in the Oregon 6th as opposed to some other district, it's also happenstance that BoldPAC was deeply invested in this race. It's not a heavily Hispanic area or anything, Salinas just happens to be Latina. 

If it was an Anglo state legislator holding down the seat, the "flood the zone with unanswered money" strategy might have worked. And if there were four other promising Hispanic prospects in the 2022 cycle, it also might have worked because BoldPAC might have been persuaded that it wasn't worth going toe-to-toe with Protect Our Future. Now what's true is POF was able to massively outspend BoldPAC but that became a diminishing marginal returns dynamic. Salinas had enough money to make it a competitive race not because there is some deep-pocked anti-EA lobby that was out to get Carrick Flynn, his aspirations just collided with another agenda by coincidence. 

So even though Salinas won by a pretty hefty margin, I think the counterfactual in which he wins does not require particularly large changes. 

Now of course weird shit is going to potentially stand in your way in any race you try to run in. But I think it underscores the fact that if EA wants to play in electoral politics it will ultimately be important to have more candidates running in more races, even if that means less superpac spending per candidate.   

Replies from: _pk, N N, Charles He
comment by _pk · 2022-05-21T18:47:49.279Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Where to even start here? Nearly every fact in this post is wrong, the interpretation of events is backwards, and the conclusion is contrarian, wrong and frankly fairly ugly.

It's not a heavily Hispanic area or anything

OR-6 contains the most populated areas of three counties in western OR with the highest Hispanic populations (map from wikipedia). It also contains towns like Woodburn, which is 57% Hispanic or Latino.

By the way, Rep. Salinas and Rep. Leon are actually both Latina, and I believe both are the children of immigrant farm workers. That's a substantial constituency in the Willamette Valley and they've always been under represented in government.

Salinas had enough money to make it a competitive race not because there is some deep-pocked anti-EA lobby that was out to get Carrick Flynn, his aspirations just collided with another agenda by coincidence.

This isn't how it was. The timeline tells a pretty clear story. Here's what happened:

First, Flynn-aligned super PACs spent a ton of money in the race and made it the country's most expensive primary.

Then, Nancy Pelosi-aligned House Majority PAC announced they were spending $1m to support Flynn, around April 10. Their first expenditure was 4/12, as you can see here.

Nearly every other candidate in the race quickly released a statement denouncing House Majority PAC for funding in a primary. They held a joint press conference and presumably candidates worked private channels as well.

It wasn't until 10 days later that BoldPAC made its first expenditure in the race, on 4/21 as you can see here.

So it's pretty easy to interpret this. BoldPAC's spending is pretty clearly reactive to House Majority PAC. House Majority tried to knock out a Latina front-runner and BoldPAC spent to counter them. Salinas was already the front-runner (or neck and neck) when BoldPAC made it's first expenditure. And they only spent in the last weeks of the race, against a ton of Flynn-aligned super PAC spending.

By the way, as an aside, the final chapter here is that Protect our Future PAC went negative in May -- perhaps a direct counter to BoldPAC's spending. (Are folks here proud of that? Is misleading negative campaigning compatible with EA values?)

So anyway, the idea that Flynn would have won if only BoldPAC hadn't made an ad buy in the last weeks of the race is pretty strained at best. Generalizing from there to say, gosh, if "it was an Anglo state legislator" leading the race Flynn might have won is totally spurious and an ugly backwards interpretation of the racial politics at play. What you saw was Congressional leadership aligned PACs having a dispute -- everything else aside, who can say in that case a different PAC wouldn't have made a counter instead.

So even though Salinas won by a pretty hefty margin, I think the counterfactual in which he wins does not require particularly large changes.

So you think a late $1.5m spend representing around 10% of total independent spending flipped the race to produce a nearly 2:1 advantage for the winner? Everyone reading Matthew Yglesias' posts in the future (here, or anywhere really) should approach whatever he says with more skepticism.

Replies from: Lukas_Finnveden, tkwa
comment by Lukas_Finnveden · 2022-05-23T00:51:44.844Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

By the way, as an aside, the final chapter here is that Protect our Future PAC went negative in May -- perhaps a direct counter to BoldPAC's spending. (Are folks here proud of that? Is misleading negative campaigning compatible with EA values?)

I wanted to see exactly how misleading these were. I found this example of an attack ad, which (after some searching) I think cites this, this, this, and this. As far as I can tell:

  • The first source says that Salinas "worked for the chemical manufacturers’ trade association for a year", in the 90s.
  • The second source says that she was a "lobbyist for powerful public employee unions SEIU Local 503 and AFSCME Council 75 and other left-leaning groups" around 2013-2014. The video uses this as a citation for the slide "Andrea Salinas — Drug Company Lobbyist".
  • The third source says that insurers' drug costs rose by 23% between 2013-2014. (Doesn't mention Salinas.)
  • The fourth source is just the total list of contributors to Salina's campaigns, and the video doesn't say what company she supposedly lobbied for that gave her money. The best I can find is that this page says she lobbied for Express Scripts in 2014, who is listed as giving her $250.

So my impression is that the situation boils down to: Salinas worked for a year for the chemical manufacturers’ trade association in the 90s, had Express Scripts as 1 out of 11 clients in 2014 (although the video doesn't say they mean Express Scripts, or provide any citation for the claim that Salinas was a drug lobbyist in 2013/2014), and Express Scripts gave her $250 in 2018. (And presumably enough other donors can be categorised as pharmaceutical to add up to $18k.)

So yeah, very misleading.

(Also, what's up with companies giving and campaigns accepting such tiny amounts as $250? Surely that's net-negative for campaigns by enabling accusations like this.)

Replies from: lukeprog, Linch
comment by lukeprog · 2022-05-23T12:16:26.981Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, bummer, not happy about this.

comment by Linch · 2022-05-23T05:10:07.536Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for checking. I initially thought _pk's claims were overblown, so it was helpful to get a sanity check. I now agree that the claims were quite misleading. 

I at least do not want to be associated with claims at this level of misleadingness. I guess it's possible that this is just "American politics as usual" (I'm pretty unfamiliar with this space). To the extent that this is normal/default politics, then I guess we have to reluctantly accede to the usual norms. But this appears regrettable, and to the extent it's abnormal, my own opinion is that we should have a pretty high bar before endorsing such actions. 

Replies from: timunderwood
comment by timunderwood · 2022-05-23T09:12:47.693Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I don't think we have to accede to that at all - it's not like it's useful for our goals anyway. What probably happened is sbf's money hired consultants, and they just did their job without supervision on trying to push better epistemics. A reputation for not going negative in a misleading way ever might be a political advantage, if you can make it credible.

comment by Thomas Kwa (tkwa) · 2022-05-21T20:30:01.074Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What's the proportion of Hispanic people in OR-6? Based on the county data I'd guess it's close to the national average of 18.7%. Someone should probably compute this.

Replies from: Liam_Donovan
comment by Liam_Donovan · 2022-05-22T06:29:55.546Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

17.4% of the citizen voting age population of OR-6 is Hispanic

https://davesredistricting.org/maps#viewmap::9b2b545f-5cd2-4e0d-a9b9-cc3915a4750f

Replies from: _pk
comment by _pk · 2022-05-22T17:03:50.899Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Wow, davesredestricting.org is a great tool, thanks for posting that!

I'll just note that according to the link you posted, OR-6 has the highest % Hispanic representation in the state by nearly 5%.

So this is a definitional issue: is it accurate to call the most Hispanic district in the 14th most Hispanic state (per Wikipedia) "not a heavily Hispanic area or anything?"

Replies from: AllAmericanBreakfast
comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2022-05-23T08:07:16.483Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

So this is a definitional issue: is it accurate to call the most Hispanic district in the 14th most Hispanic state (per Wikipedia) "not a heavily Hispanic area or anything?"

We can answer this quantitatively.

17.4% of the citizen voting age population of OR-6 is Hispanic. Of 9 candidates who ran in OR-6, two, Salinas and Leon, are Hispanic, making Hispanics 22.2% of the candidate pool. So they were not particularly over- or under-represented in this race. It is slightly surprising that the strongest candidate in this race happened to be Hispanic, but 22.2% chances happen all the time. Obviously, referring to this as "chance" is in no way suggesting that Salinas won "by luck," she's clearly a skilled legislator. 

Matt says that "this is the only viable opportunity to add a Hispanic Democrat to the caucus this year." It seems like we have to consider four counterfactuals here:

1. Salinas didn't run

I think it's a safe assumption that people who vote for Hispanic candidates specifically because they are Hispanic and represent Hispanic issues are a subset of the Hispanic population.

Let's say that the entire Hispanic vote in OR-6 went for Salinas (surely an overestimate), that this represents 17.4% of votes in this election, and that 2/3 of them would have switched their votes to Leon if Salinas hadn't run. That would have given Leon an additional 6,000-7,000 votes or so, which would have been enough to beat Flynn if Salinas's other votes were redistributed evenly or in proportion to vote share to other candidates.

That's a pretty generous assumption in favor of the idea that Leon was a viable candidate in this counterfactual scenario, one that reasonable people could disagree on. 

2. Flynn didn't run 

In this case, let's assume Flynn's votes would have been redistributed evenly or in proportion to vote share to other candidates. Then Salinas would still have won.

3. Salinas and Flynn didn't run

In this case, let's say once again that Leon would have received an additional 6,000-7,000 Hispanic votes, while the remaining voters would have been redistributed among the other candidates either evenly or in proportion to vote share. In this case, Leon would have been the frontrunner. Indeed, under this model, she could have received more like 1/3 of the Hispanic vote, with the remainder of the votes being split up equally, and been neck and neck with Reynolds. But reasonable people can probably still disagree on whether she'd have received even this much of the Hispanic vote.

4. Flynn had run in a district where his top competitor was white

Let's say that Flynn had run in a different district where his top competitor had equal local appeal and political skill to that of Salinas. However, in this counterfactual district, the prospect of putting an additional Hispanic legislator in the Democratic caucus was not on the table, because Flynn's top competitor was not Hispanic.

Matt is suggesting that, in this case, that competitor may not have been able to attract a big PAC spend of their own, and Flynn's campaign funding, along with his qualities as a candidate, may have been sufficient to win him the election. I don't read this as a dig against Salinas's skill as a politician. I read it as an explanation for why she in particular, among other strong candidates in other districts, was able to attract over a million dollars in PAC spending of her own. Given that BoldPAC is an explicitly pro-Hispanic Democratic PAC, it seems like they themselves would agree that giving a strong Democratic Hispanic candidate extra funding to help them beat non-Hispanic rivals is exactly their agenda.

Flynn couldn't help being from the district he was from, and in this election, there was an extremely limited supply (1) of explicitly EA candidates with a heavy focus on pandemic prevention. So the fact that he happened to be up against a main competitor who is Hispanic and could therefore attract this specific form of campaign financing does seem to be a matter of luck. 

Analysis

It seems possible, but unlikely, that Flynn got "unlucky" in facing an unusually strong opponent. Salinas is clearly very good, and my guess is that in most contested primaries, there is at least one very skilled, appealing, and reasonably well-funded legislator in the running.

From the outside view, we ought to perhaps view an  EA candidate as being basically a "random sample" of the candidate quality pool. As we can see in this election, vote distributions are long-tailed, and a randomly sampled candidate in a 9-candidate election will usually be lackluster. That doesn't mean it's a bad idea to take a shot. I think we should not update overmuch on the strategy of "just throw money behind EA-aligned candidates." 

For the hypothesis that BoldPAC's late-campaign spend turned a Flynn victory into a Salinas victory, we are sort of positing that Salinas's skill and Flynn's money had them neck-and-neck, but that Salinas could benefit from an influx of cash and advertising much more than Flynn because of diminishing marginal returns. On May 5th, Salinas and Flynn polled at 18% and 14% respectively. So around the time of the BoldPAC ad buy, this hypothesis might have seemed reasonable. Looking at the voting results and assuming we should have known at the time that Salinas would receive twice the support of Flynn is just hindsight bias. Going further and denying that Flynn could have won in any election at all is "totally spurious" and an "ugly" and "backwards interpretation" analysis is, well, the sort of  that I deleted my Facebook account in order to avoid.

comment by N N · 2022-05-20T15:04:15.185Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is a great comment, you may want to consider making it a top level post on the forum so more people will see it.

comment by Charles He · 2022-05-20T05:03:30.561Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thoughts:

  1. Your writing is really good! Wow!
  2. Almost none of this seems like secret info or hard to find. It seems like EAs could have been informed about the potential collision of the seat value to the relevant Hispanic movement. It seems healthier to discuss this during the campaign (and still proceed relentlessly). By the way, I suspect some of the absence of discussion and problematic norms around the past campaign is the ultimate result of defective discourse—where criticism of low quality is normalized. EAs are aware of this defect and as a result, when it matters, EAs don’t trust discourse on actual things that matter. Even if this suspicion was partly true, that would be really bad once you stop to think about it.
  3. You support many candidates because you point out idiosyncrasies specific to each contest are large, which makes sense. So, isn’t there about 3 other EA candidates running? Should we talk about those?
Replies from: Charles He
comment by Charles He · 2022-05-21T01:58:39.073Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

My comment has some underlying ideas that are good, but is really badly written, and I retract it.

comment by Davidmanheim · 2022-05-18T06:36:39.651Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think that these are good lessons learned, but  regarding the last point, I want to highlight a comment by Oliver Habryka [EA(p) · GW(p)];

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. 

This seems really important, and while I'm not sure that politics is the mind-killer [LW · GW], I think that the forum and EA in general needs to be really, really careful about the community dynamics. I think that the principal problem pointed out by the recent "Bad Omens" post [EA · GW] was peer pressure towards conformity in ways that lead to people acting like jerks, and I think that we're seeing that play out here as well, but involving central people in EA orgs pushing the dynamics, rather than local EA groups. And that seems far more worrying.

So yes, I think there are lots of important lessons learned about politics, but those matter narrowly. And I think that the biggest risk of failing to tread carefully here isn't about wasting money on political campaigns, it's undermining the ability to make trustworthy claims far more generally. We need to do our best to exhibit epistemic standards that are not just better than anyone else in politics - a bar too low to be worth noticing, much less aiming for - but ones that actually should engender trust among both EAs, and the rapidly growing set of people who are watching. And because politics operates at high simulacra levels [LW · GW], I'm concerned that in our rush to focus on various legitimate concerns and lessons while "doing politics" at the object level, we aren't learning those lessons.

Replies from: IanDavidMoss, aarongertler
comment by IanDavidMoss · 2022-05-18T12:50:25.730Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I've been thinking about this too. I was really struck by the contrast between the high level of explicit support for "one of our own" running for office vs. the usual resistance to political activism or campaigning otherwise. Personally, I'm strongly in favor of good-faith political campaigning on EA grounds, but from my perspective explicit ties to the EA community shouldn't matter so much in that calculus -- rather, what matters is our expectations of what the candidates would do to advance or block EA-aligned priorities, whether the candidates are branded as EA or not.

In 2020 I suggested [EA · GW] that it might be a good idea to set up an entity to vet and endorse candidates for office on EA grounds. While I'm sure such an entity would have still supported Carrick in retrospect, I think one benefit of having a resource like this is that it would allow us to identify, support, and develop relationships with other politicians around the US and in the rest of the world who would be really helpful to have in office while not facing some of the disadvantages of being a newcomer/outsider that Carrick faced.

Replies from: Davidmanheim
comment by Davidmanheim · 2022-05-18T13:31:07.520Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

There are a variety of reasons that having people who are both aligned with our goals, and  ALSO willing to listen to pitches on specific policy suggestions, is far more impactful than having people who we are just aligned with in general - but if you look at the list of candidates that Guarding Against Pandemics is supporting, it's definitely inclusive of many people who are aligned with our goals and not aware or not particularly engaged with EA, but have more background in politics. And while we're focused on longtermist policy, rather than EA more generally, we are doing much of what you suggest in terms of finding and vetting candidates - and doing more to actually engage and develop relationships. 

I think that among the majority of EAs, we haven't been as clear as we should be that Carrick's campaign was part of a larger set of things that GAP is doing, and there are lots of  specific political campaigns we still encourage donations towards - in addition to being happy for people to donate directly to the "hard money" PAC, which is capped at $5,000 per donor.

  1. We're supportive of other EA policy ideas and goals, but we both have limited capacity, and are not currently supporting or opposing anyone on that basis.
comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2022-05-18T23:12:13.501Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think that the principal problem pointed out by the recent "Bad Omens" post [EA · GW] was peer pressure towards conformity in ways that lead to people acting like jerks, and I think that we're seeing that play out here as well, but involving central people in EA orgs pushing the dynamics, rather than local EA groups. And that seems far more worrying.

What are examples of "pressure toward conformity" or "acting like jerks" that you saw among "central people in EA orgs"? Are you counting the people running the campaign as “central”? (I do agree with some of Matthew’s points [EA(p) · GW(p)] there.)

I guess you could say that public support for Carrick felt like "pressure". But there are many things in EA that have lots of support and also lots of pushback (e.g. community-building strategies, 80K career advice). Lots of people are excited about higher funding levels in EA; lots of people are worried about it; vigorous discussion follows. 

Did something about the campaign make it feel different? 

*****

Habryka expressed concern [EA(p) · GW(p)] that negative evidence on the campaign would be "systematically filtered out". This kind of claim is really hard to disprove. If you don't see strong criticism of X from an EA perspective, this could mean any of:

  1. People are critical, but self-censor for the sake of their reputation or "the greater good"
  2. People are critical, but no one took the time to write up a strong critical case
  3. People aren't critical because they defer too much to non-critical people
  4. People aren't critical because they thought carefully about X and found the pro-X arguments compelling

I think that (2) and (4) are more common, and (1) less common, than many other people seem to think. I do think that (3) is common, and I wish it were less so, but I don't see that as "pressure".

 

If someone had published  a post over the last few months titled "The case against donating to the Flynn campaign", and it was reasonably well-written, I think it would have gotten a ton of karma and positive comments — just like this post [EA · GW] or this post [EA · GW] or this post [EA · GW]. 

Why did no one write this?

Well, the author would need (a) the time to write a post, (b) good arguments against donating, (c) a motive (improving community epistemics, preventing low-impact donations, getting karma), and (d) comfort with publishing the post (that is, not enough self-censorship to override (c)). 

I read Habryka as believing that there are (many?) people who fulfill (a), (b), and (c) but are stopped by (d). My best guess is that for many issues, including the Flynn campaign, no one fulfilled all of (a), (b), and (c), which left (d) irrelevant. 

I'm not sure how to figure out which of us is closer to the truth. But I will note that writing a pseudonymous post mostly gets around (d), and lots of criticism is published that way.

(If you are someone who was stopped by (d), let me know! That's really important evidence. I'm also curious why you didn't write your post under a pseudonym.)*

I also hope the red-teaming contest [EA · GW] will help us figure this out, by providing more people with a reason to conduct and publish critical research. If some major topic gets no entries, that seems like evidence for (b) or (d), though with the election over I don't expect anyone to write about the Flynn campaign anyway.

 

*I've now heard from one person who  said that (d) was one factor in why they didn't leave comments — a mix of not wanting to make other commenters angry and not wanting to create community drama (the drama would happen even with a pseudonym). 

Given that this response came in soon after I made my comment, I've updated  moderately toward the importance  of (d), though I'm still unsure what fraction of (d) is about actual Forum comments vs. the author's reputation/relationships outside of the Forum.

Replies from: michaelchen, Bluefalcon
comment by mic (michaelchen) · 2022-05-19T04:51:00.164Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Overall, I agree with Habryka's comment that "negative evidence on the campaign would be 'systematically filtered out'". Although I maxed out donations to the primary campaign and phone banked a bit for the campaign, I had a number of concerns about the campaign that I never saw mentioned in EA spaces. However, I didn't want to raise these concerns for fear that this would negatively affect Carrick's chances of winning the election.

Now that Carrick's campaign is over, I feel more free to write my concerns. These included:

I also have some critiques of the post Why Helping the Flynn Campaign is especially useful right now [EA · GW] but I declined to write a comment. These include:

  • The post claims "The race seems to be quite tight. According to this poll, Carrick is in second place among likely Democratic voters by 4% (14% of voters favor Flynn, 18% favor Salinas), with a margin of error of +/- 4 percentage points." However, it declines to mention that "26 percent of the district’s voters holding an unfavorable opinion of him, compared to only 7 percent for Salinas" (The Hill).
  • At the time the post was written, a significant fraction of voters already had already voted. The claim "the campaign is especially impactful right now" seems misleading when it would have been better to help earlier on.
  • The campaign already has plenty of TV ads from the Protect the Future PAC, and there are lots of internet comments complaining about receiving mailers every other day and seeing Carrick ads all the time. (Though later I learned that PAC ads aren't able to show Carrick speaking, and I've read a few internet comments complaining about how they've never heard Carrick speak despite seeing all those ads. So campaign donations could be valuable for ads which do show him speaking.)
  • Having a lot of people coming out-of-state to volunteer could further the impression among voters that Carrick doesn't have much support from Oregonians.
  • If you can speak enthusiastically and knowledgeably about the campaign, you can do a better job of phone banking or door-knocking than the average person. However, the campaign already spent $847,000 for door-knockers. While volunteering for the campaign might have been high in expected value, the fact that other people could do door-knocking raises questions about whether it's in out-of-state EAs' comparative advantage to do so.
Replies from: aarongertler, aarongertler
comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2022-05-19T09:37:02.222Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'd recommend cross-posting your critiques of the "especially useful" post onto that post — will make it easier for anyone who studies this campaign later (I expect many people will) to learn from you.

Replies from: michaelchen
comment by mic (michaelchen) · 2022-05-20T17:26:32.055Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the suggestion, just copied the critiques of the "especially useful" post over!

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2022-05-19T09:33:55.897Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for sharing all of this!

I'm curious about your fear that these comments would negatively affect Carrick's chances. What was the mechanism you expected? The possibility of reduced donations/volunteering from people on the Forum? The media picking up on critical comments?

If "reduced donations" were a factor, would you also be concerned about posting criticism of other causes you thought were important for the same reason?  I'm still working out what makes this campaign different from other causes (or maybe there really are similar issues across a bunch of causes). 

 

One thing that comes to mind is time-sensitivity: if you rethink your views on a different cause later, you can encourage more donations to make up for a previous reduction. If you rethink views on a political campaign after Election Day, it's too late. 

If that played a role, I can think of other situations that might exert the same pressure — for example, organizations running out of runway having a strong fundraising advantage if people are worried about dooming them. Not sure what to do about that, and would love to hear ideas (from anyone, this isn't specifically aimed at Michael).

Replies from: michaelchen
comment by mic (michaelchen) · 2022-05-20T17:49:54.509Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think I was primarily concerned that negative information about the campaign could get picked up by the media. Thinking it over now though, that motivation doesn't make sense for not posting about highly visible negative news coverage (which the media would have already been aware of) or not posting concerns on a less publicly visible EA platform, such as Slack. Other factors for why I didn't write up my concerns about Carrick's chances of being elected might have been that:

  • no other EAs seemed to be posting much negative information about the campaign, and I thought there might have been a good reason for that
  • aside from the posting of "Why Helping the Flynn Campaign is especially useful right now", there weren't any events that triggered me to consider writing up my concerns
  • the negative media coverage was obvious enough that I thought anyone considering volunteering would already know about it, and it had to already have been priced into the election odds estimates on Metaculus and PredictIt, so drawing attention to it might not have been valuable
  • time-sensitivity, as you mentioned
  • public critiques might have to be quite well-reasoned, and I might want to check-in with the campaign to make sure that I didn't misunderstand anything, etc. That could be a decent amount of effort on my part and their part and also somewhat awkward given that I was also volunteering for the campaign.

However, if someone privately asked me for my thoughts on how likely the campaign was to succeed or how valuable helping with it was, I would have been happy to share my honest opinion, including any concerns.

comment by Vilfredo's Ghost (Bluefalcon) · 2022-05-19T06:54:11.999Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The only EA who's ever been an asshole to me was an asshole because I supported  Flynn, so I don't think there was some hidden anti-donations-to-Flynn movement that self-censored. EAs who opposed the idea were quite loud about it. 

Replies from: Khorton
comment by Kirsten (Khorton) · 2022-05-19T15:26:57.463Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Just because some people loudly opposed it, doesn't mean most people who opposed it were loud.

(I imagine there were also a lot of people like me who simply chose not to investigate whether or not they thought this race was competitive with donations elsewhere - in my case because I'm not American so couldn't donate either way.)

I'm sorry someone was an ass to you.

comment by MatthewDahlhausen · 2022-05-18T19:05:24.418Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm glad to see EAs running for political office explicitly as EAs. But I hope that the attitude and approach by the EA community towards the Flynn campaign doesn't become the norm. I felt that the campaign was intrusive and pushy, and the standard of care was much lower than what we expect for other causes/interventions.

Some points:

  • I got direct campaign emails from the Flynn campaign, even though I never signed up for campaign emails. Presumably some EA organization gave the Flynn campaign a list of emails or they scraped it off some EA website. I would prefer EA organizations to keep contact information private and adopt an "opt-in" policy for sharing emails. I don't want to get spammed by people asking money for causes or campaigns, especially if EA political campaigns become more frequent.
  • One of my local group co-organizers got a personal appeal from the Flynn campaign in the final days of the election asking them to fly to Oregon to do door-knocking for the campaign saying how it was high expected value. Not only is it a troubling sign that the campaign did not already have a large, local population of door-knockers, but the campaign didn't seem to consider the terrible optics of having people getting paid to fly in from out-of-state to do door-knocking for a few days. This seems anti-democratic.
  • This primary was flooded with billionaire Super PAC money. This is part of an ongoing trend of billionaires buying political power and is detested within the progressive community. It's undemocratic, and we should be cautious about engaging in politics through billionaire money, even if it is 'our' billionaire, and especially if the EA candidate is running in a progressive democratic primary. Even if you think democracy is just an instrumental good you should be worried about the capacity for billionaires to heavily influence elections.
  • The campaign language and EA posts about it, including this one, center entirely around Flynn and not the winner Andrea Salinas, who is also an excellent candidate. The values and views of other candidates the EA candidate is displacing should be a significant consideration in whether to support the campaign. It may be more successful to make EA a constituency for lawmakers, rather than just supporting EA candidates running against progressives.

Furthermore, I'm not sure the information value alone was worth the millions spent on this campaign by the EA community. The 'lessons learned' listed in this forum post seem obvious. I googled "tips for running for congress" and in 10 minutes read through several resources that gave most of these same lessons learned. I expect a 30 min call with a Democrat strategist, of which there are several in the EA movement, would have also given the same lessons learned, and probably would have given a more accurate prediction on the election outcome than the prediction markets cited in this post. Flynn got ~half the vote of the leading candidate, which is more of a blowout than as suggested by the prediction markets. I frequently see parts of the EA community think they've found some new fascinating insight (EA movement learns about 'X') when in fact they are just columbusing knowledge from other communities. It's as if some piece of knowledge must be blessed or learned directly by a well-known EA before it's accepted by the community at large. A little less hubris and a little more humility towards other knowledge domains would save quite a bit effort and resources when learning about things like running for congress.

Replies from: rajlego, Linch, Khorton, Ben_West, Raven
comment by rajlego · 2022-05-19T09:00:30.508Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

re: your second bullet point, I volunteered for door-knocking, and none of the other volunteers I knew/met (which was basically all of them) were either asked to come doorknock or offered travel subsidies by the campaign team. Some volunteers did reach out to their friends to encourage them to come help out (though the campaign didn't ask people to do this). I would guess that's what happened with the message your friend got.

 That said, I really appreciate how carefully you're trying to think through this. I wish we saw more in-depth red-teaming and criticism of popular ideas floating around in the community. 
 

Edit: I checked with the campaign and they explicitly said that they didn’t pay for anyones flight nor offer to pay for anyones flight

comment by Linch · 2022-05-18T20:16:56.546Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The values and views of other candidates the EA candidate is displacing should be a significant consideration in whether to support the campaign

This seems like a very surprising claim to me fwiw. Like it sounds reasonable and rational on the face of it, but if I think about it for even 15 seconds, it breaks down under (my current and potentially very flawed) understanding of the world.

Replies from: MatthewDahlhausen, JordanLeick
comment by MatthewDahlhausen · 2022-05-18T21:50:32.643Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Can you elaborate?

I expected this critique when I wrote that claim. I think I understand why someone would see the other candidate as being insignificant. Let me know if I'm presuming the wrong reasons here:

It seemed that the Flynn campaign message was all about pandemic preparedness. At least that's how it was marketed in EA spaces. And it's mostly true that there isn't anybody in congress championing pandemic preparedness. If you are a single-issue voter on pandemic preparedness or AGI, I can see how the opposing candidate doesn't matter to you; your candidate will do more for the cause than any other candidate, regardless of party, who likely doesn't care or have an opinion on it. It's more of a binary. If you care more about existential risks much more than anything else, this reasoning make sense.

But if you care about other causes like animal welfare, local or global poverty, climate change, democracy health, etc., chances are the other candidate does have views on it. If they are a progressive democratic candidate like Andrea Salinas, EA-aligned poverty alleviation, climate change action, and voting reform are significant parts of their platform. Also, one of the key issues in the U.S. presently is whether we are going to retain a semblance of a democracy or if elections are going to be decided by super PACs and gerrymandered state legislators. There is a significant party divide on support for EA-aligned voting reform and bans on alternative voting methods. If you care about being able to influence elections through public appeals, maintaining a functioning democracy matters even if you are a single-issue voter. There is a clear partisan divide. Given an equal chance of winning, would you rather the EA candidate run opposed to someone like Andrea Salinas or Madison Cawthorn?

Replies from: willbradshaw, Linch
comment by Will Bradshaw (willbradshaw) · 2022-05-19T16:18:46.524Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It's very much not obvious to me that EAs should generally prefer progressive democratic candidates in general, or Salinas in particular.

Speaking personally, I am generally not excited about Democratic progressives gaining more power in the party relative to centrists, and I'm pretty confident I'm not alone here in that[1]

I also think it's false to claim that Salinas's platform as linked gives much reason to think she will be a force for good on global poverty, animal welfare, or meaningful voting reform. (I'd obviously change my mind on this if there are other Salinas quotes that pertain more directly to these issues.)

There are also various parts of her platform that make me think there's a decent chance that her time in office will turn out to be bad for the world by my lights (not just relative to Carrick). I obviously don't expect everyone here to agree with me on that, and I'm certainly not confident about it, but I also don't want broad claims that progressives are better by EA values to stand uncontested, because I personally don't think that's true.

  1. ^

    To be clear, I think this is very contestable within an EA framework, and am not trying to claim that my political preferences here are necessarily implied by EA.

comment by Linch · 2022-05-18T22:33:38.964Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Can you elaborate?

I think your paraphrase is roughly right. But this is not exactly how I'd frame it. Instead, I'd frame it as:

I think improving the long-term future significantly is quite hard. So you need either a pretty targeted theory of change, or the type of mindset that has an implicitly very strong ToC that lets you spot great opportunities along the implicit ToC and execute on it.

Some people do manage to accidentally improve the long-term future significantly (e.g. there's an argument for Petrov's grandmother), but this is very much not the default, and we should not rely on them being successful at this, especially ex ante.
 

Replies from: MatthewDahlhausen
comment by MatthewDahlhausen · 2022-05-19T01:22:35.048Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for clarifying. I agree with you that if the main reason you are supporting a candidate is their potential impact on long-term future oriented policy then the opposing candidate doesn't matter much beyond a simple estimate of their electoral chances vs. your candidate.

Replies from: Pablo_Stafforini, Linch
comment by Pablo (Pablo_Stafforini) · 2022-05-19T14:40:28.368Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I don't understand why you keep presenting this as a long-term vs near-term issue. I would have been thrilled to support a candidate who advocated for comprehensive and unprecedented welfare reform for farmed animals, or for massive increases in well-targeted global health spending. Support for such issues is so rare in American politics, and could be so disproportionately impactful, that it makes perfect sense to focus exclusively on the exceptional candidate who decides to make them a top priority. 

Replies from: Linch
comment by Linch · 2022-05-19T14:49:02.286Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I don't understand why you keep presenting this as a long-term vs near-term issue.

I probably framed my first reply to Matthew in a way that was unhelpfully focused only on LT stuff, which I'd guess partially led to the presentation in his response.

comment by Linch · 2022-05-19T01:51:22.332Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I guess I'm also not convinced if you care about typical neartermist EA causes that the math checks out. Like, I don't think typical progressive democrats are very good at e.g. increasing foreign aid or phasing out factory farming, though at least this seems more plausible. *

I did look briefly at Salinas' platform and I didn't see anything about (e.g.) increasing global health spending. 

(EDIT: I do think the "functioning democracy" angle may be a reasonably strong contender for the type of crucial consideration that could flip my conclusion, though I'm currently at <10% here. I think it's great that you brought this up). 

* Obviously there are more exceptions for specific Democrat candidates on non-LT issues, e.g. I was (and am) a Cory Booker shill. 

comment by JordanLeick · 2022-05-18T23:01:01.005Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

If the claim breaks down in 15 seconds, then you probably should have used the 15 seconds it took to write this post to explain why it breaks down.

Why shouldn't the next-most-likely winner be factored into  the EV calc? All other things being equal, wouldn't you want to target races where the alternative is someone who is not EA-aligned at all, rather than someone who is somewhat EA-aligned?

comment by Kirsten (Khorton) · 2022-05-18T19:24:48.640Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yes, it was one thing to say the money was worth it because of the (small) chance of Carrick winning, but saying it was worth it for the information value alone really stings when you think about how far that money could go if donated elsewhere.

comment by Ben_West · 2022-05-20T21:53:26.568Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Furthermore, I'm not sure the information value alone was worth the millions spent on this campaign by the EA community. The 'lessons learned' listed in this forum post seem obvious.

The post author doesn't say anything about having a special connection to the campaign. I assume the "value of information" argument is that campaign staff/insiders gained knowledge they couldn't have gotten otherwise, and I'm not sure this post would shed much light on that argument either way. 

As a relatively trivial example of learning not available from a Google search: the campaign presumably learned things like how many people would show up to make calls, how much money they could raise, etc.

comment by Raven · 2022-06-01T18:13:50.299Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The 'lessons learned' listed in this forum post seem obvious. I googled "tips for running for congress" and in 10 minutes read through several resources that gave most of these same lessons learned. I expect a 30 min call with a Democrat strategist, of which there are several in the EA movement, would have also given the same lessons learned, and probably would have given a more accurate prediction on the election outcome than the prediction markets cited in this post.

People who worked on the campaign can speak to this better than I can, but I would give them more  credit for doing reasonable due diligence. I have a strong expectation that:

  • There were lots of Democratic strategists involved
  • There were lots of attempts at polling / predicting the race

I also think there can be a meaningful difference between knowing on paper that "having connections in the district is important" and "spending money can help you win" and "having a voting record is helpful", and seeing how those factors actually play out in practice. That said, I hope (and expect) that there was more "know-how" generated by the race than just the lessons reflected in this post. 

comment by RyanCarey · 2022-05-18T10:23:58.686Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Condolences to the campaign team. Their efforts were not a waste, because we've learned a lot from them.

In retrospect, we can see that too many variables were stacked against Carrick.

  • The candidate had little history in the location, voting history, credentials, political inclination, little practice with speaking to a mass audience, and little of the style of a public figure.
  • The campaign suffered from too few local connections, a hostile media response, too little local funding.
  • Outside the campaign, there was an allergic reaction to the crypto-backing, and the HMP endorsement.

There were some variables in his favour. To name a few, his compelling personal history, talented team and volunteers, and campaign and outside funding. But it wasn't nearly enough. A good half of these weaknesses are changeable, though. I think a candidate who has a bit more inclination toward politics and mass outreach, who has experience in the state house, and some of the connections that come with that, will have good chances.

comment by Joseph Richardson · 2022-05-18T10:50:56.521Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is a great post, but I would like to present a counterargument to the claim that the extent of the funding did not matter due to scope neglect. Specifically, I think Flynn's race could suggest there are limits to the amount one organisation can spend on primary races relative to other ones (I agree that absolute numbers are unlikely to matter). I have two reasons for thinking that the relative levels of spending could have mattered. Firstly, it does seem highly unusual for a well-funded campaign to get all its funding from just one donor, which may have made it easier to land attacks relating to SBF. Secondly, this race becoming the most expensive primary in the country grabbed the attention of national media outlets and possibly political groups (e.g., the opposition PAC), potentially helping rally support around viable opponents. Finally, I will note that my argument is reasoning from one unusual data point and thus am not certain of it myself.

Replies from: IanDavidMoss, Bluefalcon, Rocket
comment by IanDavidMoss · 2022-05-18T12:39:18.861Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I strongly agree with this. Almost all money in politics goes to establishing and maintaining narratives about the candidates, but money becomes a problem rather than a help in politics when the supporter and candidate allow the money itself to become the narrative. This is especially true in a Democratic primary.

comment by Vilfredo's Ghost (Bluefalcon) · 2022-05-19T07:16:10.457Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I was going to make essentially the same point. I may have too much political experience for my emotional reaction to be worth anything in judging how a normal voter would feel, but to me, half or more of the money coming from one person feels like a big deal. Less than half feels like something that would receive criticism but that I would  generally write it off as sour grapes.

The fact that it's crypto money specifically probably matters a lot. The partisan valence of crypto among average people is pretty right-wing because of bitcoiners' libertarian fantasies. In a more rational world that wouldn't affect perceptions of crypto generally but in this world it does. This may be too expensive to be worth it, but if SBF is really going to be spending a lot of money on Democratic primaries he may want to give some consideration to how to rehabilitate the image of non-BTC cryptocurrencies among Dem voters. 

comment by utilistrutil (Rocket) · 2022-08-09T21:24:43.152Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The second point implies more of a bright line than scalar dynamic, which seems consistent with scope insensitivity over lower donation amounts. That is, we might expect scope insensitivity to equalize the perception of $1m and $5m dollars, but once you hit $10m, then you attract negative media coverage. If we restrict ourselves to donation sizes that allow us to fly under the radar of national media outlets, then the scope insensitivity argument may still bite.

comment by Jack R (JackRyan) · 2022-05-18T07:50:13.121Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Maybe someone should user-interview or survey Oregonians to see what made people not want to vote for Carrick

Replies from: Hawk.Yang, aarongertler
comment by Hawk.Yang · 2022-05-18T20:18:01.459Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Just some random Twitter comments I've seen: 

"I received a flyer for Flynn multiple times a week for months. Made me 100% sure I wasn’t going to vote for him."

"Great! I voted for her. There IS a point where you can run too many commercials. Was turned off by the non stop deluge of ads from the Flynn PAC. A little more restraint might have tricked people. Way too obvious of an attempt to buy a seat."

"I guess you really can't buy anything with crypto."


"Crypto bro goes down just like crypto did"

(https://twitter.com/Redistrict/status/1526765055391432704)
 

Replies from: anonymous_ea
comment by anonymous_ea · 2022-05-19T03:29:31.952Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The Reddit comments I've seen have been largely the same as well: people being tired of apparently incessant campaign ads along with some suspicion of large out of state money and crypto.

A couple of random threads: 

https://www.reddit.com/r/Portland/comments/u2c69t/carrick_flynn_cryptobacked_candidate_in_new/

https://www.reddit.com/r/SALEM/comments/u9lmir/carrick_flynns_bizarre_response_to_where_he_voted/

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2022-05-18T22:24:43.295Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Here are some impressions of him from various influential Oregonians. No idea how these six were chosen from the "more than a dozen" originally interviewed.

Replies from: Charles He
comment by Charles He · 2022-05-18T23:18:37.929Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It seems reasonable that most of these people were selected because they were expected to be hostile and aligned with other candidates.

This belief is because it is probably this sort of “local establishment” to whom the EA candidate had the weakest comparative ties (or even was threatening to), and also because the WW put out specific aggressive pieces of low substance (the “owl” quote).

comment by Lakin (ChrisLakin) · 2022-05-19T21:00:39.900Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

There's a weird detail I see in this post that seems to overemphasize the campaign's success:

Yes, Carrick lost. But he came in second out of nine, despite several factors pushing pretty strongly against him. Had things shaken out differently on a few key factors, he could have won.

and

So the fact that Carrick came in second, despite several (in the future, mostly avoidable) factors strongly pushing against him, and no comparable unique factors pushing in his favor, makes me more optimistic about the prospects of any future EAs who decide to run. To be concrete, my personal best guess is that >30% of American EAs would have at least a decent shot (say, >20%) of making it into Congress if they chose to dedicate themselves to their local community and spend time practicing the appropriate communication skills.

However, Carrick only received half as many votes as the winning candidate (results). Maybe this wasn't immediately clear as the data was tentative, but I find it hard to update much on this data.

comment by _pk · 2022-05-21T17:51:39.938Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Great post, and I hope folks will consider it carefully. I was thinking of writing up my thoughts on how to field better candidates, and points 1-4 cover what I would have written. (And do it really thoroughly, nice job Daniel_Eth!)

One thing about all of those points: they're not just about optics or voter preferences. They're proxies for being prepared to do the job. You don't just need to live in the district for a while before you run so you won't get called a carpetbagger, you need it to know what's going on. You need local connections to get support, but also to know who to call on when new issues come up. Experience in local office doesn't just look good on the bio, it shows that you've got experience with committee meetings and all the other basic blocking and tackling on a local level. And so on --these are matters of substance not just optics.

It would be great to see more long-term thinking in Congress, and I think if you all back candidates that would be viable without their EA connection and also add that perspective, you could do a lot of good.

I hope Mr. Flynn also considers running for local or state office. There's been a lot of churn in the Oregon state legislature recently, and that's likely to continue. He'd be a strong candidate for state rep in the next cycle.

comment by rgb · 2022-05-18T06:36:24.427Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Just wanted to say that I really appreciated this post. As someone who followed the campaign with interest, but not super closely, I found it very informative about the campaign. And it covered all of the key questions I have been vaguely wondering about re: EAs running for office.

comment by Charles He · 2022-05-18T11:20:04.278Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

As a Democratic candidate, being “the crypto guy” is a political liability; being tied to EA, not as much

How strongly do you think this was an update in the favor of an underlying reality of “EA being easy to present”, instead of “EA getting really good draws” in one campaign?:

  • It seems like the Politico and WaPo articles were really fair, even good for EA. National press could have ended up being hostile as others were.
  • A lot of attention was on money and crypto, which take up mindshare/sound bites. Maybe this shielded discussion of more cerebral criticism of “being an EA”.
  • The campaign manager, much of the staff, and the candidate himself are some the best talent in EA. I guess they worked hard. It might be hard to see how many fires they put out or issues they massaged over, this could be consequential.

If the speculation in this comment is true, it might be hard to tell the difference. This is because these “draws” from this one instance have lasting effects and will set a positive tone for EA for a long time.

I guess one difference is that, if the story in this comment is right, EA can’t be confident that a median quality political effort wouldn’t create issues or erode positive sentiment.

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2022-05-18T10:29:36.127Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

edited a lot due to comments

My view is that this is a bet we'd take again. Copied from my twitter:

Sam Bankman-Fried et al spent $13 million on an I'd estimate an additional 25% chance for Carrick Flynn to win. Assuming an 80% chance to win in the national, that's $60 million to win  house seat on expectation for someone who cares deeply about pandemic prevention + great record + all the information learned in the campaign. My 25% comes from the metaculus estimate of 30% (which I think we should accept as a reasonable guess) assuming a 5% chance of him winning without the money. 

Should Sam spend that much to increase the chances on many house seats? I don't know, probably? How many seats do you need to pass pandemic bills? Also the first person has much higher marginal value. This looks like a choice that those involved would make again.

Also, this has great signalling value. If I were in a tough race in the next 2 years, I'd be pushing for Pandemic Legislation and negotiating for some money. "If he's willing to blow $13 mill on a nobody, if I back this legislation, maybe he'll back me" 

correct me if I'm wrong

Replies from: MHarris, Aleks_K, RyanCarey, nathan
comment by MHarris · 2022-05-18T12:01:20.254Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

How much did the $13 million shift the odds? That's the key question. The conventional political science on this is skeptical that donations have much of an effect on outcomes (albeit it's a bit more positive about lower profile candidates like Carrick) https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/money-and-elections-a-complicated-love-story/

(In this case, given the crypto backlash, it's surely possible SBF's donations hurt Carrick's election chances. I don't want to suggest this was actually the case, just noting that the confidence interval should include the possibility of a negative effect, here.)

Signaling is a more interesting idea, but raises more questions about effectiveness. How much is it worth spending to get someone elected on the basis that they've endorsed pandemic prevention for self-interested reasons?

Replies from: JoshYou, nathan
comment by JoshYou · 2022-05-18T13:20:34.737Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Fundraising is particularly effective in open primaries, such as this one. From the linked article:

But in 2017, Bonica published a study that found, unlike in the general election, early fundraising strongly predicted who would win primary races. That matches up with other research suggesting that advertising can have a serious effect on how people vote if the candidate buying the ads is not already well-known and if the election at hand is less predetermined along partisan lines.

Basically, said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, advertising is useful for making voters aware that a candidate or an issue exists at all. Once you’ve established that you’re real and that enough people are paying attention to you to give you a decent chunk of money, you reach a point of diminishing returns (i.e., Paul Ryan did not have to spend $13 million to earn his seat). But a congressperson running in a close race, with no incumbent — or someone running for small-potatoes local offices that voters often just skip on the ballot — is probably getting a lot more bang for their buck.

Replies from: Owen_Cotton-Barratt
comment by Owen Cotton-Barratt (Owen_Cotton-Barratt) · 2022-05-18T14:17:54.286Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Although early fundraising could be correlational with success rather than causal, if it's an indicator of who can generate support from the electorate.

(I'd be pretty confident there's an effect like this but don't know how strong, and haven't tried to understand if the article you're quoting from tries to correct for it.)

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2022-05-20T08:29:20.699Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yeah good question, but maybe 25%. So overall it's about $60M for a seat. I really think Carrick had no chance without this money (there were several other crypto people + conventional candidates)

I believe there might have been too many mail shots, say, but I don't beleive Carrick was hurt overall, because without SBF noone woudl know who he was.

comment by Aleks_K · 2022-05-22T12:26:12.768Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think your cost-effectiveness analysis is a little bit misleading: You're assuming there was a binary choice between spending $0 and having a 5% chance of a seat or spending $13mn and having a 30% chance*. This is not the case, though, as they could have spent anything between those two amounts. It is quite reasonable that spending say $3mn would have led to something between 25-28% chance of winning and spending $10mn probably to something like 29.9%, so the effectiveness of most of the $13mn spent is much lower than you are suggesting.

*I'm much more sceptical than you though that the Metaculus estimate is a reasonable guess: It seems plausible to me that there could be a significant overlap between people highly excited about Flynn and people estimating on this question, which could very well have biased the estimate in Flynn's favour.

Replies from: nathan, nathan
comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2022-05-23T14:34:04.272Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

So I'm hearing the following:

  • It might be cheaper than this because perhaps most of the value was created by some small proportion of the money. Perhaps if you spent 60 million across 60 races, you'd expect more than 1 pro pandemic preparedness seat.
  • It might be more costly than this because metaculus was miscalibrated. I find this a little frustrating because "maybe the well-calibrated forecasters were wrong" is an exceptionally cheap attack against the best forecasting we had ahead of time. That said, we'll find out in  future races anyway.

On balance I reckon the first bullet point dominates the second,  so I reckon this is an overestimate of costs. It probably costs less than $60 mil to campaign on expectation.

What cost effectiveness guesses would you give?
 

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2022-05-23T14:27:31.562Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What do you think the cost-effectiveness was? 

comment by RyanCarey · 2022-05-21T15:05:10.010Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps it was reasonable in prospect, but not in retrospect. He lost by a lot. So we can see now that the chance of winning was more like 10%. Whereas, if someone does a (generally two-year) stint in the state house, they can build up the resources required for a run that is credible, with a >30% chance of success. It will almost always make sense to build a public persona beforehand,  in that manner, or another, rather than running "out of nowhere" again. Also, you didn't take into account the diminishing returns of funding, and I think in future, folks will not need to spend as much per constituent.

Replies from: Linch
comment by Linch · 2022-05-21T16:47:45.778Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yglesias argues in a different thread that Salinas was more competitive than expected [EA(p) · GW(p)] for fairly arbitrary reasons.

Replies from: RyanCarey
comment by RyanCarey · 2022-05-21T16:56:31.435Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yglesias is more the expert here, but I would question whether boldpac explains Carrick being outvoted by 2x. Also, presumably there are only like 50 competitive primaries each cycle (with new seat, no incumbent), and many of them will include an opponent who is as strong as Salinas for one reason or another.

comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2022-05-20T08:30:43.667Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

A number of people have downvote this, and while I now think my number was a little low, I don't think it was really wrong. So I stick by my now edited number. If you downvoted, what do you think was wrong?

Replies from: RyanCarey, Khorton
comment by RyanCarey · 2022-05-20T08:37:11.119Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

You might want to use more political sensitivity re the perception of "buying" a seat.

Replies from: nathan
comment by Nathan Young (nathan) · 2022-05-23T14:37:52.159Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Do you prefer the current wording? 

Also, this feels a little arbitrary? Do people not think that lots of money was thrown at a race to try and win it and that whatever we call that it is what it is? Are we arguing over the behaviour or what I called the behaviour?)

comment by Kirsten (Khorton) · 2022-05-20T12:25:08.588Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think it's immoral to (attempt to) buy seats in a democracy; it goes against my values.

Fundraising in order to try to make sure voters are aware of your candidate and his message is fine, but "buying seats" isn't.

Replies from: Carol Greenough
comment by Carol Greenough · 2022-05-25T14:29:32.152Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for this statement.  I am  including the current results from FEC filings here.  It is clear that there was not only a lot of money spent to buy the election, but there was a good deal of subterfuge.  Contributions to other PACs from Protect our Future were made just late enough to escape reporting until after the election.  

One of the mysteries about this election was what the Justice Unites US Pac was.  It spent almost $850,000 on canvassers for Flynn and touted itself as an AAPI led and run organization.  Campaign filings now show that money for the PAC came exclusively from Protect our Future and supported only one candidate.  Protect our Future spent over $10 million supporting Flynn and almost a million dollars against Andrea Salinas, the victor in this race.  

These current filings also confirm that Bankman-Fried donated $6 million to the House Democratic Majority PAC just before that PAC gave an inexplicable $1 million to Flynn.

This was neither effective nor altruistic.  It was an experiment in whether big money could overcome the unquestionable advantages of other candidates.  

comment by teddyschleifer · 2022-05-18T20:10:31.696Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is a great post that I think captures a lot about what happened here. Especially 5. I think to some extent  the super PAC donations backfired — after all, you're right that Carrick got terrible press from the gifts. The dominant storyline in local media about Flynn was about how much money he was getting from this crypto gazillionaire in The Bahamas. Not to say that it would have been better for him not to have had the money. But I wonder how this election would've been different if POF had spent only, say, $2m on his behalf.

FWIW,  we just published this on POF over here at Puck which may be of interest to the thread.

comment by SiebeRozendal · 2022-05-18T06:32:09.329Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Did Carrick anywhere address the 'crypto-shill' claim directly?

I have not followed this campaign closely, but I can totally see why Carrick came across as being inauthentic - because he sort of was. He was downplaying his EA side and presenting himself as a normal local politician.

I think the bold move here would have been openness: talking more deeply about his true motivations and those of SBF. Obviously, that brings EA much more in the scope of opponents, with major risks.

The lesson I'm (tentatively) drawing is that an "EA insider" cannot easily enter politics because it's hard to be authentic without exposing EA to political attacks.

Replies from: zsp
comment by Zach Stein-Perlman (zsp) · 2022-05-18T06:49:55.358Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
  • Carrick repeatedly said that he's not a crypto guy, hasn't met SBF, etc.
  • He didn't hide his pandemic-preparedness agenda -- in fact, he ran on it as a major qualification
Replies from: ThomasFowl, Linch
comment by ThomasFowl · 2022-05-18T12:06:32.336Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I am not sure if he did this / this sort of thing is feasible, but it could have been a great move to say something like: I will not in any way seek to influence crypto policy while in office OR I will not seek relevant committee assignments for crypto regulation OR even I will abstain from all votes related to cryptocurrencies. 

Might have been better to be more forceful in distancing himself from SBF. But I guess this is all very easy to say in hindsight. 

comment by Linch · 2022-05-18T18:01:19.751Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It was pointed out a while ago in some EA groups that the campaign website was bland and had less specificity than even the non-EA contenders. 

Replies from: zsp
comment by Zach Stein-Perlman (zsp) · 2022-05-18T18:10:00.771Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yes, the website was confusingly vague and remarkably unexciting. (But in interviews and some ads he ran on being a "pandemic preparedness expert," I think.)

Replies from: Linch
comment by Linch · 2022-05-18T18:24:54.877Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What percentage of primary voters pay a lot of attention to interviews and stuff? 

Replies from: zsp
comment by Zach Stein-Perlman (zsp) · 2022-05-18T18:31:41.858Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I don't know, but media coverage is important both for its direct effects and because the media pays attention to other media coverage, so what's said in interviews/etc affects other coverage. The general media sentiment of Carrick as the crypto PAC candidate mattered a lot, I think.

(Edit: also of course gaffes in interviews get picked up in media.)

comment by SiebeRozendal · 2022-05-18T06:35:11.421Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I do agree that this provided quite some useful information. However, there may also be a big downside if the criticism of SBF is sticky and will carry to future EAs being funded in politics by him.

Replies from: Davidmanheim
comment by Davidmanheim · 2022-05-18T06:41:13.734Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

While it's uncertain, I think it's more likely that the signal sent by the overwhelming funding of Carrick's campaign by both SBF and by a large network of private EA donors, and the ability to push the national party to support a primary candidate, was actually central to the success of so many other campaigns that GAP is funding and supporting, and that this will be useful in the future.

comment by Charles He · 2022-05-18T23:42:13.512Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

In this “news cycle” of EA posts related to the election, has anyone actually written on the actual issue of how compulsion/authority was used on EA in any sense, mechanical/intent/norms/solutions?

This purported undue authority or compulsion is what is motivating a lot of this anxiety right?

But I get the sense this all stemmed from just one very well liked (or high status if you’re cynical) EA (ASB) who promoted the candidate, along with a number of colleagues of some EA status.

As devil’s advocate, it’s unclear what the issue was, or how this could be prevented in the future (especially if no one is going to articulate this).

(Credit for idea of EA “news cycles” goes to Nathan Young).

comment by joshcmorrison · 2022-05-23T12:03:04.152Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Am a bit late to this but wanted to jot down a few thoughts:

  1. Does EA Represent Electoral Constituents? Since EA is cosmopolitan and disregards national and possibly temporal boundaries, does that mean  EA politicians will prioritize non-voters over the interest of voters? A lot of EAs may feel like which Americans have health insurance coverage or have a right to an abortion is less important than Africans dying of malaria or humanity going extinct. But 1. is this a legitimate basis for democratic politics and 2. if legitimate, will espousing it inherently be a losing electoral strategy (since EA politicians will quickly be branded as doing a suboptimal job representing their voters)?
  2. Should We Be Open to a Chesterton's Fence Around Money in Politics? One political science mystery (which EA investment in electoral races has tried to exploit) is that there is less money in politics than might be rational from the economic self-interest of motivated stakeholders (i.e. campaign donations and lobbying expenditures are much less than the government spending they help determine). But the Flynn campaign experience implies that at least being identified with a single donor creates strong backlash, so we should perhaps more carefully consider explanations for the "too little money in politics" mystery that aren't simply "it is rational to spend more money on politics."
  3. Should We Require Local Buy-In to Run in Electoral Races? I'd love to understand better the local Oregonian organizing and stakeholder building that was done for this campaign. I'm also curious to what extent Nick Kristof (who was running for Governor of Oregon and has written sympathetically about effective altruism) was engaged. I was frankly pretty surprised not to see Kristof publicly on board, particularly because he'd built a gubernatorial campaign that ended up not being used (since he was excluded from the ballot for residency reasons). Given the heavy carpetbagging criticism of Flynn (outside crypto money, hadn't voted in recent elections, etc.) and some of the issues that have come up (criticism on local reddits, Oregonians posting negatively about the campaign on this forum, perhaps a misguided tactic of bringing in outside volunteers for door-knocking) along with question 1. i raise above, it may be uniquely valuable in future races to have at least some local community groups bought in ahead of time.
comment by Micha White · 2022-05-18T21:12:58.162Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm worried about how much this campaign hurt the perception of EA as a whole. My guess would be not too much, since it's a local primary race, but I'm sure there are some people skeptical of the community. It's also possible that crypto is just easier to understand as bad than EA is, so that's what Salinas decided to run on. I'd argue that we don't know yet how EA affects a candidate's campaign. Although, most candidates probably have something that could drown out EA anyway, although probably not anything as damaging as crypto was.

comment by LHA (Liam Alexander) · 2022-06-24T04:03:50.971Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Curious about this part:

“To be concrete, my personal best guess is that >30% of American EAs would have at least a decent shot (say, >20%) of making it into Congress if they chose to dedicate themselves to their local community and spend time practicing the appropriate communication skills.”

Would be curious for a bit more explanation from OP or others on this part.

comment by Liam_Donovan · 2022-05-22T06:14:35.111Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

So now that it's over, can someone explain what the heck was up with SBF donating $6m to HMP in exchange for a $1m donation to Flynn? From an outside perspective it seems tailor made to look vaguely suspicious and generate bad press, without seeming to produce any tangible benefits for Flynn or EA. 

Replies from: Aleks_K
comment by Aleks_K · 2022-05-22T12:32:48.348Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I don't know anything about the SBF donation to HMP, but it it seems plausible that the HMP support for Flynn could well have been positive had it not led to  a large pushback from Latino democrats and BOLD PAC spending for Salinas, so whoever is responsible for getting HMP involved probably didn't realise that there was a risk that this might happen.

Replies from: Liam_Donovan
comment by Liam_Donovan · 2022-05-22T20:11:07.690Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What was the positive effect supposed to be? 

Replies from: Aleks_K
comment by Aleks_K · 2022-05-23T17:47:03.320Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Endorsement by the Democratic congressional leadership. There are plenty of low-information voters who hardly follow politics but generally prefer Democrats to Republicans so in the primary, they are more likely to vote for candidate endorsed by the those people who aim to get a Democratic majority in Congress.

comment by Chris Leong (casebash) · 2022-05-18T06:47:37.883Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks so much for writing this up! I agree that we should be taking lessons from this run.