Crypto Super PAC to Target Races in Ohio and Montana That Could Swing the Senate

Fresh from spending more than $10 million to help defeat Representative Katie Porter, a progressive Democrat, in California’s open Senate race, the crypto industry’s big new super PAC has identified its next political targets for this fall. Atop the list are two races featuring the most endangered Democrats up for re-election, in Ohio and Montana.

The crypto industry and its aligned super PACs, which entered 2024 with more than $80 million in the bank, are aiming to use their financial and political might both to elect allies and ultimately shape a favorable set of regulations in Congress.

“How do people understand that crypto is real — that it’s a real issue?” said Kara Calvert, the head of U.S. policy at Coinbase, one of the largest crypto trading platforms. “When you have $85 million behind an issue, that’s pretty real.”

Josh Vlasto, a spokesman for Fairshake, the biggest of a group of three new crypto super PACs, said the super PAC had made the decision to play in four Senate races this year: the Democratic primaries in Maryland and Michigan, as well as the general elections in Ohio, where Senator Sherrod Brown is up for re-election, and Montana, where Senator Jon Tester faces a serious challenge.

“We’ll have the resources to affect races and the makeup of institutions at every level,” Mr. Vlasto said. “And we’ll leverage those assets strategically to maximize their impact in order to build a sustainable, bipartisan crypto and blockchain coalition.”

Mr. Brown and Mr. Tester are the only two incumbent Senate Democrats nationwide running in states that former President Donald J. Trump won in 2020, and Democrats must win both for the party to have any hope of maintaining their slim majority.

Mr. Vlasto said the crypto super PAC had not yet decided whether to oppose or support Mr. Brown and Mr. Tester. But the signs of what direction Fairshake is headed are clear.

Mr. Brown has been a public skeptic of what he has called “crypto abuses” as the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. In one hearing, he said that “crypto appeals to crime rings and scam artists.” One of Mr. Brown’s possible Republican opponents, Bernie Moreno, has been a crypto booster in the Cleveland area. The G.O.P. primary is later this month.

The announcement that the industry aims to spend heavily in the Ohio race amounts to a warning shot. Two people familiar with the industry’s plans said all lawmakers running in targeted races, as well as in a number of other districts and states, would soon be receiving industry-related questionnaires asking them to document their stances on crypto issues. Such questionnaires are not unusual for special interest groups to deploy but can be fraught for the politicians who are asked to fill them out.

Asked whether the combination of threatened political spending and lobbying on policy should make the senators feel targeted, Ms. Calvert pushed back.

“I wouldn’t say that there’s a target on their backs,” Ms. Calvert said of Mr. Brown and Mr. Tester. “What I would say is, there is, I think, an opportunity, and there is an important time period between now and the election where there are a lot of policymakers that have to make some decision: Do they want to be for clear rules and consumer protections? Or do they not?”

Coinbase, which has contributed more than $23 million to the new group of crypto super PACs, is one of three major industry players, along with Ripple Labs and Andreessen Horowitz, that account for most of the super PAC funds. The industry also has a nonprofit, Stand With Crypto, that has highlighted that 52 million Americans own crypto with nearly equal shares of Democrats, Republicans and independents.

The increasing political activity comes as the industry seeks some federal regulation in part to give the digital currency greater legitimacy.

Mr. Tester, who sits on the Banking Committee, has also been a crypto skeptic. He said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in December 2022 that crypto had not “been able to pass the smell test for me.” “If we regulate it,” Mr. Tester added in the interview, “it may give it the ability for people to think it’s real.”

After Fairshake spent $10 million against her, Ms. Porter, who is a close ally of Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a Democrat and a crypto-industry skeptic, said her race in California had been “rigged by billionaires.”

Mr. Vlasto responded by saying, “Thank you, Katie Porter, for giving Fairshake credit for your loss.”

In addition to the super PAC’s advertising, Stand With Crypto organized an election eve rally in Los Angeles with the rapper Nas and the Coinbase chief executive Brian Armstrong.

“In 2024 it will become clear that being anti-crypto is bad politics,” Mr. Armstrong said there, according to the group. “Get out and vote to make your voice heard.”

The 2024 election is not the first featuring a massive infusion of crypto cash. In 2022, Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange, plunged tens of millions of dollars into congressional races. FTX went bankrupt in spectacular fashion, wiping away billions of dollars, and Mr. Bankman-Fried, who had appeared on Capitol Hill and even attended a House Democratic retreat, was later convicted of fraud and conspiracy.

In addition to those Senate contests, the new crypto super PACs have already inserted themselves into some recent Democratic House primaries, as well as in some Republican races. Fairshake’s two affiliated crypto PACs are called Protect Progress, which is devoted to Democratic races, and Defend American Jobs, which plans to be involved in Republican races.

Protect Progress spent $1.7 million boosting Shomari Figures in an open Alabama House seat (he promises on his website to “embrace the new landscape around digital assets, like cryptocurrency”) and nearly $1 million on behalf of Julie Johnson in Texas (who says on her website that “Americans can benefit from crypto innovation”). Ms. Johnson won her primary, and Mr. Figures finished first in his and headed to a runoff.

Mr. Vlasto said that in deciding whom to back that Fairshake and its affiliates “will evaluate a candidate’s leadership on issues important to the crypto community, the viability of a candidate, the importance of the election and our ability to impact the race.”

He said the group had also decided to insert itself into two current Democratic Senate primaries but had not yet picked sides.

In Michigan, Representative Elissa Slotkin is the leading Democratic candidate, and she sits on the House Agriculture Committee, which has considered cryptocurrency regulations. Her opponents are Nasser Beydoun, a businessman, and Hill Harper, an actor.

In Maryland, Representative David Trone, a wealthy former businessman, is running against Angela Alsobrooks, the executive of Prince George’s County.

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