The best $5,800 I’ve ever donated (to pandemic prevention).

Disclaimer: I lead grantmaking for biosecurity and pandemic preparedness at Open Philanthropy, but this endorsement is written in a purely personal capacity.

Carrick Flynn is running for congress in Oregon’s 6th district as a Democrat. He is also the first person to ever run for US congress on a platform of preventing future pandemics. This campaign provides a rare opportunity for smaller donors to make a large impact, since political contributions are capped at $5,800 per person ($2,900 for the primary and $2,900 for the general, but you can donate both up front).

His campaign website is here, launch video here, and donation link is here. Only US citizens and permanent residents can donate. The campaign also needs volunteers and staff (more details at the bottom of this post).

About Carrick

Carrick is a close personal friend and somebody I have enormous admiration for. I’ve worked with him since 2015, when he came to Oxford and subsequently set up the Centre for the Governance of AI. His wife Kathryn Mecrow-Flynn is also amazing, being the founder and CEO of Magnify Mentoring (formerly WANBAM).

Carrick embodies a number of virtues that I want to briefly highlight, and his story is remarkable. He grew up in poverty in rural Oregon, in an abusive household. A flood left him homeless as a child, and he shared a mattress on the floor with his brother until he was 17.

These experiences drove him to help others in poverty. After graduating from the top law school (Yale), he disregarded lucrative career opportunities to work in international development. In India, he saved potentially thousands of lives by clearing a roadblock to a nationwide vaccination program. He also secured a court decision that reallocated over $1 billion to high impact health programs by manually going through over 1,000 pages of accounting documentation.

This is just one instance of Carrick’s determination and work ethic. At Oxford he worked harder than almost anybody else I knew—in fact, out of everybody I’ve worked with in the past decade, my time in Oxford with Carrick would put him in the top 5 people I’ve seen in terms of raw work ethic.

He’s also brilliant. I’ll skip shallow measures of this[1] and just say that I saw Carrick’s intellect firsthand when he pivoted to thinking about pandemic preparedness during COVID. There he would rapidly digest information and connect it to what needed to be done. He’s likely the only person running for congress who has nuanced opinions on pathogen sequencing, platform vaccine tech, and what should go into the strategic national stockpile.

Finally, many people who are as brilliant and driven as Carrick are assholes, and Carrick is emphatically not. He is one of the most warm, caring, and supportive people I know. He cares for animals too, and he and his wife are vegan (and not in an asshole-like way).

I also know that Carrick is fiercely loyal. If he wins, his constituents in Oregon will have a representative that takes this duty seriously and puts their interests above his own.

The importance of a champion in Congress

After 9/​11, the U.S. government spent over $1 trillion on counterterrorism to ensure something similar wouldn’t happen again. After losing almost 900,000 lives and $7.6 trillion in economic damage to COVID, what do you think Congress is doing to prevent the next pandemic?

The Biden administration released a fantastic $65 billion plan that aims to prevent future pandemics. Congress has funded practically none of it. Part of the problem is that nobody in congress has made pandemic preparedness a ‘core issue.’ Congressional members don’t oppose the president’s plan, and there are some standout champions, but none of them are trying to get it passed with the desperation that I think the issue warrants.

Carrick will make this a priority, and has committed to devoting a full time staff member to focus on pandemic preparedness issues. Realistically he won’t be able to change much overnight as a junior member, and the majority of his impact would only come years in the future. Still, even if this results in only a 1-in-500 counterfactual chance of eventually getting something as impactful as the $65 billion through, that’s still over $100 million of pandemic preparedness spending in expectation[2] (which I believe is substantially more well-spent than typical government spending).

What a donation of $2,900 means

I was recently told that congressional candidates typically spend more than half of their campaign time on the phone calling people and asking for money. This strikes me as insane and sad, and I would much rather Carrick spend his time listening to voters and developing smart policy.

The campaign has an informal target of raising $1 million for the primary, which is the level of funding required for them to stop thinking about money (they’ve already raised over $200,000 before launching). The maximum primary donation is $2,900, so the campaign needs to reach only 300 more people to donate the maximum amount. If you are a US citizen or permanent resident and privileged enough to be able to donate this much, you could be one of these 300!

(I know smaller donations are also sincerely appreciated!)

What does the donation do? As a conservative lower bound, I think instantly hitting the fundraising target would free up over 250 hours of work from Carrick, and I think those 250 hours would increase the chances of him winning the election by more than 2% (I’m assuming a counterfactual in which they still raise the money but it takes more time and effort). Taking these numbers ($1 million for an additional 2% chance of winning) means that roughly speaking you should donate if you think Carrick winning the election would produce more good things in the world than $50 million worth of donations. Given what I know about Carrick and the fact that Congress spent almost $5 trillion last year, I feel like this should be an easy bar to clear (a factor of 100,000 over the $50 million mark).

I’m posting this in a community of people that take charitable giving seriously. Recently, large funders like Open Phil have made it harder for smaller donors to find outstanding opportunities to contribute. My personal giving pledge has sometimes felt like an afterthought since joining Open Phil, so I was proud to be able to finally donate in a situation where my donation wasn’t replaceable. It may have been the most impactful $5,800 I will ever spend on preventing pandemics!

Or… volunteer for the campaign!

The campaign also needs volunteers and staff. If you’re interested in helping out, email and let them know. I think they are most interested in volunteers who can call voters and spend time in Oregon, anybody with campaign experience, and people who can organize fundraisers (although my hope is that the fundraisers will be out of a job quickly, thanks to you!).

  1. ↩︎

    But if you happen to care about stuff like this, Carrick got a 99.6th percentile LSAT score.

  2. ↩︎

    Due to diminishing returns, this isn’t the same as being worth $100 million of biosecurity spending. But it doesn’t feel like more than a factor of 10 reduction, e.g. I would prefer a 1-in-500 chance of getting $65 billion rather than a sure chance of getting an additional $10 million.