WASHINGTON — A super PAC with ties to the cryptocurrency industry is spending big to back state Rep. Patrick Branco in his bid for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District.
Federal Election Commission records show Web3 Forward has spent $249,000 on advertising this month to support Branco in his race against former state Sen. Jill Tokuda, who polls suggest is the frontrunner.
Web3 Forward is a relatively new political organization that backs Democratic candidates who it believes will create a friendly regulatory environment for the “blockchain innovators” spearheading efforts to legitimize and profit from digital currencies, such as Bitcoin.
Web3 Forward’s sole reported donor is GMI PAC, which is a separate super PAC funded by major players in crypto.
So far, GMI PAC has reported raising nearly $10 million in the current 2022 election cycle. Its list of donors includes Samuel Bankman-Fried, who’s the billionaire founder and CEO of the FTX cryptocurrency exchange, and Silicon Valley tech investors Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, who are vying to be dominant players in the digital currency market.
Civil Beat reached out to Web3 Forward for comment about its recent ad campaign in support of Branco, but did not receive a response.
Branco similarly declined to comment, noting in a text message that his campaign is not allowed to coordinate with outside spending groups.
“I do not want to speculate on the actions of anyone in this race,” he said.
Branco, however, does make available video, images and messaging on his campaign website for super PACs and other independent expenditure committees to use in their own advertisements. He even references talking points that would resonate with certain audiences, whether it’s Native Hawaiians or those living on Maui.
He’s also included opposition research about Tokuda’s 2012 endorsement from the National Rifle Association, which he has repeatedly attacked her on during the campaign.
It’s too soon to know whether Web3 Forward’s efforts will alter the course of the election in Branco’s favor.
A Civil Beat/Hawaii News Now poll found that Tokuda leads Branco 31% to 6% among likely Democratic voters, but that 63% were unsure of who they would vote for in the August primary.
While there are other candidates on the Democratic ballot, most consider the race for CD2, which represents rural Oahu and the neighbor islands, to be a two-way race between Tokuda and Branco, a relative newcomer to Hawaii politics.
Web3 Forward has spent more than $3 million on congressional contests so far this election cycle, according to a tally of outside spending by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Of the candidates it supported for Congress, including Jasmine Crockett of Texas, Val Hoyle of Oregon and John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, who is running for Senate, each won their respective primary.
Neal Milner, professor emeritus of political science from the University of Hawaii, said that any extra money that’s pumped into the race will help Branco, but he noted that he still has a long way to go if he hopes to win the nomination due to his lack of name recognition.
“He’s not doing that well because he has the same problem that any new candidate has,” Milner said. “People don’t know who he is.”
Hawaii Congressman Kai Kahele didn’t do Branco any favors by waiting so long to announce he was forgoing reelection to run for governor, Milner said.
The Hawaii Office of Elections says mail-in ballots will get to voters by July 26, which is only two weeks away.
Milner added that Branco probably won’t have to worry about any blowback for benefiting from outside money since most political ads don’t leave a lasting impression.
“Voters always claim to care that big money shouldn’t be in politics,” Milner said. “But I don’t know of any election around here where that’s been a definitive factor.”