Dean Phillips Ads Produced by Tech Industry Super PAC

dean phillips sam altman support

A super PAC with ties to OpenAI CEO Sam Altman is lavishing money on some embarrassingly bad ads supporting President Joe Biden’s longshot challenger, Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.). According to disclosures, We Deserve Better, launched last year, has spent $665,000 so far boosting Phillips, including $154,000 on TV ads. 

Phillips, a late entry into the presidential race, is pouring his energy into New Hampshire, operating on the theory that a triumph in the first-in-the nation primary, where Biden will not appear on the ballot, could catapult his candidacy to national relevance. 

Winning the state won’t necessarily help the Minnesota congressman and liquor heir with the nomination math: The Democratic National Committee stripped New Hampshire of its delegates for its refusal to heed a party order to move its primary later in the calendar, behind South Carolina’s contest. Nevertheless, We Deserve Better is now up on the air in New Hampshire with TV ads touting Phillips candidacy. 

The super PAC was launched in November, shortly after Puck News reported that Phillips met with Altman at the tech mogul’s home in San Francisco. A few days prior to that meeting, Biden signed an executive order imposing new reporting requirements for companies working on artificial intelligence technology, including a demand that “developers of the most powerful AI systems share their safety test results and other critical information with the U.S. government.”

We Deserve Better is being led by Matt Krisiloff, an early employee at OpenAI who reportedly dated Altman. His brother Scott, an executive at a nuclear fusion startup backed by Altman, is on the super PAC’s board of directors, according to ad buying records. The group is registered at a San Francisco property owned by Amit Shanbhag, founder of the data brokerage (Shanbhag said the house is being rented and declined to provide the names of the current tenants.) We Deserve Better has not yet disclosed its donors, and it is unclear if Altman himself is among them.

The group is one of two super PACs that have supported Phillips, an outspoken critic of the corrupting influence of big money on politics. The other super PAC, Pass the Torch USA, was formed by former top John McCain aide Steve Schmidt, who helped launch Phillips’ campaign. That group has reported spending roughly $460,000 to boost Phillips’ candidacy so far. Justin Phillips (no apparent relation) is listed as the treasurer for both We Deserve Better and Pass the Torch; he did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Dean Phillips has sharply criticized the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which paved the way for super PACs that can raise unlimited donations to spend on elections. In November, he said the ruling was “one of the most abhorrent decisions in Supreme Court history since Dred Scott,” calling it “sickening” and saying it “turned over the keys to Congress and to our government to the wealthy and well-connected.” 

Jeff Weaver, Phillips’ campaign manager, echoed that sentiment when reached for comment about the super PACs boosting his candidacy in New Hampshire, but he didn’t reject their support. “The fact that our politicians follow dollars, instead of voters, is abhorrent,” Weaver said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “That’s why Dean is one of the only members of Congress who has rejected all PAC money and who doesn’t have a leadership PAC. If President Biden denounces the two PACs working on his behalf in New Hampshire, and stops weaponizing his DNC to illegally suppress voters, then we would follow suit. As it stands, Biden is personally boycotting New Hampshire, but there are two PACs working hard to convince New Hampshire voters to write him in when he’s written them off.”

There’s a distinct “How do you do, fellow kids!” vibe to We Deserve Better’s digital spots, like the cringeworthy “Dean ‘Handsome’ Phillips” ad, featuring a series of Phillips thirst traps from days of yore set to Cardi B, Bad Bunny, and J Balvin’s “I Like It.” Another awkward bit features a man having a stilted, TikTok-style conversation with himself about Phillips’ platform. 

Several of the We Deserve Better ads advance dubious claims. In one ad paid for by the super PAC, a male narrator declares Phillips is “the only candidate in the House or Senate who accepts no lobbyist money and no PAC money.” In addition to being rich with irony, appearing as it does in a super PAC-produced ad, the claim isn’t true: More than 70 lawmakers elected in 2022 refused donations from corporate political action committees, and Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) has publicly sworn off both PAC and lobbyist cash in her Senate race. 

In a reproductive rights-focused ad, a woman narrator raises questions about Biden’s ability to protect abortion rights. Biden “had the House, Senate and presidency, but 1. Didn’t codify Roe v. Wade. 2. Didn’t safeguard access to Plan C. 3. Didn’t restrict the Supreme Court’s authority to rule on abortion.” 

Biden has repeatedly pledged to codify Roe, but has never had the filibuster-proof Senate majority he would have required to do so. (A Democratic proposal to codify the court decision failed to win even a simple majority in 2022.) It’s unclear if the PAC ad is referring to Plan B, the morning after pill, which is still legal in all 50 states, or the non-profit organization Plan C, whose website offers information about how to obtain abortion pills; and while Congress has the power to enact laws that govern how the Supreme Court operates, such an effort would have undoubtedly run into the filibuster — a Senate rule requiring 60 votes for most legislation that Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) refused to reform. (The Biden campaign declined to comment on the ads from the pro-Phillips super PAC.)

A separate health care-focused spot asserts “Dean Phillips supports Medicare for All, which would provide universal health coverage for all Americans.” Phillips, who has not previously supported the Medicare for All legislation during three terms in Congress, endorsed the bill last month. He is still not publicly listed as a co-sponsor of the legislation. 

Before announcing his support for Medicare for All, Phillips pitched the idea of a national health insurance plan with “a capitated model.” A capitated payment model typically means giving a company — like health insurers that operate private Medicare Advantage plans — a set amount of money each month to provide coverage for an enrollee. It’s well-understood that this model gives firms a financial incentive to deny care: Fewer dollars paid out equals more profit. 


Phillips launched his campaign in the fall with the help of the former GOP operative Schmidt; Schmidt soon left the campaign to run Pass the Torch. He was replaced on the campaign by Weaver, Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign manager. 

Last week, the watchdog group Campaign for Accountability filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing Phillips’ campaign of illegally coordinating with Pass the Torch.

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