What is the fate of California’s pandemic preparedness ballot measure backed by Sam Bankman-Fried?

(Elizabeth Williams/Associated Press)

What is the fate of California’s pandemic preparedness ballot measure backed by Sam Bankman-Fried?

Homepage News, California Politics, 2024 Elections, COVID-19 Pandemic

Laura J. Nelson

November 27, 2023

When a group of wealthy Californians launched an election campaign

end of 2021

focused on improving pandemic preparedness following the deadly COVID-19 outbreak, they have earned more than $21 million in less than six months.

The money to support the initiative, which would raise taxes on the wealthy, came from two groups with ties to Silicon Valley: one endorsed by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, the other by cryptocurrency executive Sam Bankman-Fried.

Months later, Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency empire collapsed. As quickly as the campaign money had appeared, it dried up.

The ballot measure now has $78.56 available, and has not attracted a new donor or received a cash contribution in the past 15 months, according to state records. While several public health and medical organizations support the measure, none have donated to the campaign.

“We are in a quiet period,” said Max Henderson, a former Google executive and one of the proponents of the Californians Against Pandemics initiative.

The measure collected more than 1 million signatures to qualify for the November 2024 ballot.

Henderson said he still plans to keep the issue on the ballot next year, despite the lack of funding. He said he doesn’t yet know how much more money the campaign will need to raise, but that he is “confident that we can raise that.”

But Bankman-Fried’s support has exposed the Californians Against Pandemics measure to a number of risks, experts say, including that potential donors will shun an initiative tied to a man convicted of fraud last month on Nov. 2.


“If I’m an opponent, I’m going right at him,” said Matt Leseyie, an assistant professor of political science at Cal State Long Beach, whose dissertation examined the ballot measures. “I would ask: Why does Sam Bankman-Fried get to write the law? Why does a convicted criminal get to decide the future of policy in California?”

Henderson said the measure was inspired by his work on the board of CovidActNow, a nonprofit that built a real-time tracker of COVID-19 risk levels in the US.

If approved by voters, the measure would increase taxes on personal income above $5 million by 0.75% for 10 years. Legislative analysts said the tax increase could generate $500 million to $1.5 billion a year, the largest cash infusion into the state’s public health system since its creation.

Half of the revenue would go to a new state agency focused on tracking diseases and preventing future pandemics. The so-called California Institute for Pandemic Prevention would provide grants to researchers studying pathogen transmission, including through metagenomic sequencing.

Public health programs would receive 25% for pandemic preparedness, and elementary schools would receive 25% for infrastructure upgrades to limit disease transmission.

Californians “love the idea of ​​soaking the rich” at the ballot box, Leseyie said. But there is no guarantee that such measures will succeed. In 2022, voters rejected Proposition 30, backed by the ride-hailing company Lyft, which would have raised taxes on income above $2 million to build out the state’s electric vehicle infrastructure.

The other major backer of the pandemic ballot measure was the Open Philanthropy Project, a foundation funded by Facebook co-founder Moskovitz and his wife Cari Tuna.

Open Philanthropy’s political action arm contributed $10 million in late 2021 and early 2022, the documents show. Mike Levine, spokesperson for Open Philanthropy, said: “We previously supported the measure, but are not for 2023-2024.”

The voting board reported $38,519.75 in non-cash contributions from Open Philanthropy this year, described in campaign finance reports as “statutory treasury fees and expenses.” Henderson and Levine said the filings were an administrative error and are being corrected.

Open Philanthropy is one of the best-known proponents of ‘effective altruism’. The movement, popular in Silicon Valley, encourages donors to focus their charitable giving on reducing long-term risks to humanity, including pandemics.

Bankman-Fried, who became the face of the movement, poured tens of millions of dollars into the cause, including California’s pandemic ballot measure and contributions to congressional candidates, including California representatives. Sydney Kamlager

Dove (D-Los Angeles)

and Robert Garcia

(D-Long Beach

), who said they would prioritize pandemic preparedness.

His hedge fund, Alameda Research, sent $12 million in late 2021 and early 2022 to a nonprofit called Guarding Against Pandemics, which was run by Bankman-Fried’s younger brother.

The nonprofit then diverted the same amount to the pandemic election campaign, according to state documents.

After the cryptocurrency market plummeted and several trading platforms crashed, the Bankman-Fried brothers’ contributions stopped, the documents show.

FTX collapsed in November 2022. Bankman-Fried was charged with fraud and arrested the following month.

Prosecutors said Bankman-Fried siphoned at least $10 billion from FTX customers and investors. Former employees tested at trial that Bankman-Fried instructed them to defraud customers by using cash from FTX customer accounts to repay debts, fund cryptocurrency investments and make political contributions to Alameda Research.

Whether creditors in FTX’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy will attempt to recover contributions paid through Alameda remains unclear.


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