Six of the nine Democrats seeking Oregon’s brand new congressional district have found something to agree on: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top congressional Democrats should stay out of the race.
In a surprising development, most of the Democrats in the 6th Congressional District primary denounced what they say is an unprecedented move by a political action committee affiliated with national Democrats, the House Majority PAC. They say the PAC has thrown itself into the highly competitive race by purchasing roughly $1 million of ads to help political newcomer Carrick Flynn.
“We strongly condemn House Majority PAC’s unprecedented and inappropriate decision…” the joint statement said. “We call on House Majority PAC to actually stand by our party’s values and let the voters of Oregon decide who their Democratic nominee will be.”
The candidates who signed the statement were state Reps. Andrea Salinas and Teresa Alonso Leon, former Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, engineer Matt West, physician Kathleen Harder and cryptocurrency investor and Army veteran Cody Reynolds. They’re all running for a new U.S. House seat given to Oregon as a result of the 2020 Census.
Closely aligned with Pelosi, the House Majority PAC bills itself as “the only PAC focused exclusively on electing Democrats to the U.S. House of Representatives.” The super PAC can raise unlimited amounts of money so long as advertising and other help it offers candidates is not directly affiliated with their individual campaigns. In 2020, the PAC ran several attack ads against Alek Skarlatos, a Republican challenging Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio in Oregon’s 4th Congressional District.
But the PAC rarely takes a stance in a competitive primary, according to the candidates who issued the statement Monday.
“This is profoundly unprecedented,” said Robin Logsdon, West’s campaign manager. “They don’t have any respect for the voters here, but I think they will. I don’t think the voters are going to buy it.”
Inquiries to the House Majority PAC were not returned Monday. Public disclosures filed with the Federal Communications Commission show the group has made major ad buys in the state.
While the group spent hundreds of thousands purchasing air time on Portland stations such as KGW and KOIN, not all that advertising space was targeting the May 17 primary. The House Majority PAC also purchased significant ad time for late October and early November, just before general election ballots are due. A form the group filed with KOIN says it is purchasing ads for “various congressional districts.”
Other disclosures, such as two filed with KPTV, do mention Flynn by name. They said the ads would feature the candidate and touch on “climate change” and “clean energy jobs.”
Avital Balwit, Flynn’s campaign manager, said Monday he was learning about the ad buys at the same time as others.
“It’s always a surprise for us,” Balwit said of the independent ads. “The path to keep the House blue starts here in the sixth district … I think this is a sign that they really think Carrick is the person to do it.”
Flynn is from Vernonia, Oregon, where he says he grew up poor, but received a scholarship that sent him to the University of Oregon. He later graduated from Yale Law School, and has focused his campaign on his experience advising the federal government on issues like technology and disaster preparedness.
Despite being a political newcomer and comparative unknown, TV and radio ads on Flynn’s behalf have already made his candidacy far more visible than other campaigns. A committee called Protect Our Future PAC has poured nearly $5 million into the effort, including spots touting Flynn’s support for seniors and commitment to public service. The committee is supported by Sam Bankman-Fried, the billionaire founder of a cryptocurrency exchange who lately has shown an intention to get deeply involved in national politics.
Another group, the Justice Unites Us PAC, has reported spending more than $800,000 assisting Flynn. That amount alone is more than Salinas, who has attracted many powerful institutional endorsements in the race, has been able to raise since announcing her run last year.
“It is extremely concerning to see the Democratic establishment influence a primary in support of just one man when our field has so many strong women and women of color,” Salinas said in a statement. “But the stakes of this election couldn’t be higher, and I will continue to share my story with Oregon voters…”
Logsdon said Monday he and other campaign operatives aren’t exactly sure what inspired congressional Democrats to back Flynn, but speculated that Bankman-Fried’s fortune played a role.
“Do I know exactly what was exchanged by his people and [House Majority PAC’s] people?” he said. “No, but I can speculate, as can everyone, that promises have been made.”