What gets Gabe out of bed — a twin in a closet-turned-bedroom in a house he also shares with several roommates — prevents the next pandemic.
Gabe, 27, and Sam, 30, are deeply influenced by “effective altruism”, a philosophical and social movement that is defined by maximizing good through a data-driven framework – an unusual lens for themselves. engage in politics. Philanthropically, this means testing and measuring effort through a cost-per-life-saved formula. For example, one experiment showed that investing in treating children for intestinal worms did more to improve their academic performance than providing schools with additional resources for textbooks.
In politics, this led Sam Bankman-Fried to a dual purpose. There’s the one he’s talked about the most: preventing the next pandemic, which he fears will be deadlier than Covid-19 and pose a huge threat to humanity, an obsession for effective altruists. His other goal is to resolve the impasse in Washington by lowering the partisan temperature and backing candidates who are “just going to take a constructive approach in DC,” he said.
“There’s a tremendous amount of good that can be done by government that works constructively…compared to a zero-sum view of government,” Bankman-Fried said. And the tone and tenor of the government, he continued, has “a massive, massive impact on life in the United States” and the rest of the world.
Effective Altruism – whose followers connect via a vast network of Internet forums, blogs and conferences – was founded in the late 2000s by academics at the University of Oxford, building on the work of philosophers, such as Derek Parfit, who claimed that the 21st century would be “the most dangerous and decisive period of existence for humanity, and Peter Singer of Princeton University, who pushed for philanthropy more efficient.
Bankman-Fried was first drawn into this world by animal welfare. “Quantitatively, you like to eat a good meal for 30 minutes, and it took five weeks of torture to produce that,” he said. He became a vegan in his freshman year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He then came to the “earning to give” model of philanthropy – working to earn a ton of money in order to give it your all. The money-making part happened quickly: after college, he worked on Wall Street for several years before founding Alameda Research, a cryptocurrency trading company, in 2017, and earning millions from the crypto arbitrage.
Another aspect of this movement that Bankman-Frieds believes in is the “long term” – that humanity has a moral obligation to future generations as well as to those alive now. This makes a global threat, like a pandemic, even deadlier than Covid, a five-alarm fire problem that is not widely addressed by Washington.
“Covid has killed 100 times more people than [those who died on] 9/11 and we spent a trillion dollars on foreign interventions, created the Department of Homeland Security and radically transformed our foreign policy – and we did nothing after Covid,” Gabe said. “If we really wanted to protect ourselves against another pandemic, then … we need the kind of bipartisan cooperation and support for that, for biosecurity in a post-Covid world, that we have for national security and a post-Covid world. September 11th.
Gabe began advocating for pandemic funding in the Democratic Party’s massive social spending legislation last summer, but watched with dismay as the number dwindled as the package shrank. When he met with members of Congress or senior staff on behalf of his new nonprofit organization – Guarding Against Pandemics, run by Gabe and fueled by his brother’s money – Gabe kept hearing that even while they agreed it was important to prevent the next pandemic, he was not their number one issue.
“Nobody in the room objected to it,” he said. “It was clear that to build this movement, you had to start earlier, look upstream.”
Heading upstream meant changing tactics to convince current lawmakers to elect new ones — endorsing and supporting candidates for Open House seats who prioritized pandemic funding and showed a willingness to work bipartisanly to achieve it. In the spring, two super PACs emerged: Protect Our Future, funded by Sam Bankman-Fried, which focuses exclusively on the Democratic House primaries; and American Dream Federal Action, which spends on the Senate and House Republican primaries and is funded by its FTX partner, Ryan Salame.
Along with rapid organizational growth came a growing political staff around the Bankman-Frieds. They work closely with Michael Sadowsky, who is president of Protect Our Future and previously worked with Gabe at Civis Analytics, a Democratic data company. Dave Huynh, who worked on Kamala Harris’ presidential primary bid, and Sean McElwee, who runs Data For Progress, a Democratic polling firm, both advise on political projects. This spring, Sam also hired Jenna Narayanan, longtime advisor to California megadonor Tom Steyer, to work with him on his political giving.
The hiring of Narayanan, in particular, speaks volumes about Bankman-Frieds’ ambition to be something more than an ATM for a party. He specifically likened his vision for a political operation more to what Steyer built — starting the climate-focused NextGen, “a policy-based platform” — than to how, say, the late Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson has focused more on handing out money to “purely partisan,” Bankman-Fried said.
They also got offices – a sparse townhouse a short walk from the US Senate where Gabe leads Guarding Against Pandemics, a physical sign of the group’s long-term ambition to have a presence in Washington. And last month, FTX spear his own corporate PAC, another group in the constellation of political outfits now surrounding Bankman-Fried.
Guarding Against Pandemic endorsed 22 Democrats and 15 Republicans, a mix of incumbents and first-time nominees. Protect Our Future and American Dream Federal Action entered a subset of those races: Since January, Protect Our Future has spent nearly $22 million on TV ads in 17 primaries, while American Dream Federal Action has lost 10 million in TV ads in 15 races, according to ad tracking firm AdImpact.
Almost all the primaries where Guarding Against Pandemics has endorsed — and where those super PACs have been spent — are in safe blue and red seats. It’s an explicit strategy on the part of the Bankman-Frieds, who see the primaries as a more cost-effective route to build support for pandemic financing – similarly to groups like EMILY’s List on the left and the Club for Growth. on the right have seen open primaries as an economic way to bolster power in Washington.
Playing in both-party primaries also maintains the bipartisan effort, which Gabe Bankman-Fried described as “very deliberate.”
“We’ve seen people try to build power within one party and fail to achieve their goals because often times we have a divided government,” Gabe said. Former Rep. Max Rose (DN.Y.), another Guarding Against Pandemics-endorsed nominee for his former seat this year, echoed the thought, “I can guarantee that over the next half-century, the Democrats will have the keys to the castle and Republicans will have the keys to the castle, so when it comes to an existential threat, it has to be bipartisan.
Through it all, Gabe Bankman-Fried said, “I want to be very clear with DC, the machine at large, that we are an issue-based organization.”
“We’re playing a long-term game here, where even if the champions we elect lose power in two years, they will regain power at some point,” Sadowsky added.