Crypto industry super PAC is 33-2 in primaries, with $100 million for House, Senate races

Jordan Vonderhaar | Bloomberg | Getty Images
  • A super PAC bankrolled by a small group of crypto companies has backed the winning candidate in 33 of the 35 House and Senate primary races it entered.
  • Fairshake PAC kicks off the general election season with a strong track record and at least $100 million to spend on crypto-friendly candidates for Congress.
  • The PAC has spent tens of millions already on ads that rarely mention crypto. Instead, the messages they deliver are about "fairness" and "integrity."
Jakub Porzycki | Nurphoto | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — A super PAC bankrolled by top cryptocurrency companies notched several wins Tuesday night in congressional primaries, the latest in a series of victories by the newest big player in American election financing.

Fairshake PAC, which supports candidates across the political spectrum whose positions align with the crypto industry's, will enter the general election campaign season with more than $100 million that it plans to spend to elect pro-crypto lawmakers to the House and Senate.

On Tuesday, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., lost his primary to Westchester County Executive George Latimer. Bowman's loss was due in part to his vocal criticisms of Israel. Yet crypto's Fairshake PAC also got into the race and spent $2 million to air an ad critical of Bowman.

Fairshake and its two affiliated political action committees, one for Republicans, one for Democrats, quietly racked up half a dozen other wins Tuesday as the candidates they backed glided to victory, although none of the races were competitive. They included Rep. John Curtis, who won the Republican nomination for Utah's open Senate seat.

U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., joins TikTok creators at a news conference to speak out against a possible ban of TikTok, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, March 22, 2023.
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., joins TikTok creators at a news conference to speak out against a possible ban of TikTok, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, March 22, 2023.

Created last year as part of a joint effort between more than a dozen crypto firms, Fairshake PAC has emerged as one of the top-spending PACs in the 2024 election cycle.

Fairshake and its two affiliated PACs have put more than $37 million so far into advertisements in primary races, according to AdImpact.

Despite a broad mission to defend the entire $2.2 trillion crypto market, Fairshake is funded by a very small set of donors.

Of the $160 million in total contributions Fairshake has raised since it was founded, around $155 million — or 94% — can be traced back to just four companies: Ripple, Andreesen Horowitz, Coinbase and Jump Crypto.

But it's not just money that the crypto industry plans to deploy this fall. The nonprofit Stand With Crypto says it has collected more than 1.1 million email addresses of crypto "advocates" it hopes to engage all the way to the ballot box.

The strength of the crypto groups is getting noticed on Capitol Hill, especially among lawmakers who are facing tough elections in 2025, where a few thousand voters, or a hefty donation, could make a difference in not only a race but in which party controls each chamber.  

Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse said this is a "defining moment" for crypto and it's made a difference to have an "organized, cohesive effort around Fairshake."

"This is an industry that has been behind in Washington and really has been on the defensive," Garlinghouse told CNBC.

The effort is also meant to showcase a matured crypto industry. After the rise and fall of Sam Bankman-Fried, who poured millions into the 2022 midterms, crypto groups are presenting themselves as more serious players.

Coinbase Chief Policy Officer Faryar Shirzad, who previously worked at both the White House and Goldman Sachs, said the industry has realized the need to not only engage lawmakers but also coordinate with crypto and blockchain owners to magnify their political clout.

"We made a funny realization, which was that the only way we were going to get the politics out of crypto was to build a political operation that leveled the playing field."

He also said the group is tapping into what he sees as a grassroots movement in order to let "Americans who own crypto to be a part of the process."

In the coming months, the group doesn't plan to spend on the presidential race, but rather the House and Senate, according to a Fairshake spokesperson. Both of those chambers are in play for 2025.

Fairshake has yet to start spending in the general election cycle, but several officials in the industry said they are keeping an eye on states such as Ohio and Montana, where Democratic incumbents who are bearish on crypto face challengers who have embraced the technology.  

In Ohio, Senate Banking Committee Chair Sherrod Brown, an outspoken crypto skeptic, is facing off against Republican Bernie Moreno, who founded a blockchain startup.

In Montana, Republican challenger Tim Sheehy has called crypto "the future of finance and the internet." Meanwhile, Democratic incumbent Sen. Jon Tester told "Meet the Press" in 2022 that crypto did not "pass the smell test." He reportedly also called crypto "bull----," according to Semafor.

But as Tester wages one of the toughest reelection fights in the Senate, his attitude toward crypto appears to be shifting.

Tester told reporters that he is keeping an open mind about several crypto bills before the Senate.

"It's 21st century stuff," Tester told reporters June 12 in the Capitol. "I thought fax machines were B.S. too."

That shifting mindset has also shown up in votes. Tester was one of 11 Democrats to vote to overturn SEC guidance on crypto that was criticized by the industry.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., speaks to reporters as he walks through the U.S. Senate subway on Capitol Hill, Sept. 18, 2018.
Mike Segar | Reuters
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., speaks to reporters as he walks through the U.S. Senate subway on Capitol Hill, Sept. 18, 2018.

Democratic Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Jackie Rosen of Nevada, who also face tough reelection battles, voted for the bill.

In the House, Rep. Elisa Slotkin, D-Mich., who is running for an open Senate seat, voted both for overturning the SEC guidance and another bill to set up a market structure for digital assets.

Yet, it remains to be seen how big a role crypto will play in November's elections, and how many votes will ultimately be influenced by any candidates' positions on crypto.

An annual survey released in May by the Federal Reserve found that around 7%, or roughly 18 million American adults, have either owned or used crypto in the past year. That figure is 5 percentage points lower than the same survey reported in 2021.

Issues such as the economy, immigration and abortion affect more people, on an order of magnitude, than crypto does. Indeed, the relatively small pool of crypto users is something the industry's political ad makers appear to be cognizant of.

Ads funded by Fairshake deliver messages that are typically less about a candidates' support for or opposition to crypto, and more about broader issues that resound with voters, such as fairness and integrity.

During the California primary season, a Fairshake ad targeted Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., who was running for an open Senate seat, as a "fake" and sought to tie her to a corrupt company. Fairshake spent $9.7 million on the race.

Porter ultimately lost to Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who is widely considered to be friendlier to crypto than Porter.

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