Ivan Soto-Wright is capable of excellent timing. The cherubic, celebrity-adjacent founder and CEO of crypto payment app MoonPay moved to Miami just before Covid shut down most of the country. And also before Florida’s hands-off approach to the pandemic attracted a wave of liberty-loving crypto enthusiasts. And then, in a further burst of excellent timing, he and other top MoonPay executives sold $150 million in shares of the company at the end of 2021, near Crypto’s mid-pandemic sugar high.
But he’s also displayed some less fortunate timing.
In April 2022, just as NFTs were ending their brief and idiotic reign as the flavor of the month, Soto-Wright told the audience at the Faena Forum in Miami Beach during Miami Tech Week that “NFT‘s have now overtaken crypto.” He talked up the “intellectual property” of promising companies like Yuga Labs and CryptoPunks, both currently filed in the “Where are they now” bin. Yuga’s Bored Apes, once traded for millions, are now “selling for as little as $52,000 worth of Ethereum,” according to Decrypt, and Yuga Labs’ native ApeCoin having lost 93% of its value.
And now come or comes word that Soto-Wright is the mystery donor behind a large contribution to America For Everyone, the super PAC supporting longshot Republican candidate for president, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. (The PAC has since rebranded itself SOS America.) This donation has already raised eyebrows, because of the mayor’s Quixotic late entry into an already crowded field that includes his home state governor and another Florida Man who’s dominating the primary polls.
In the fourth quarter of 2022, the PAC received generous sums from the usual suspects—Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Howard Lutnick gave a million; Miami real estate big wigs like Alex Kleyner ($120,000) and Erik Rutter (personally gave $50k; his Oak Row developers gave another $50k). But there among what were only nine donations (and Rutter accounted for two of those), was a mysterious firm at 701 Brickell Ave called PassionForest, LLC. On Oct. 28, 2022, PassionForest sent America For Everyone $500,000. I follow this PAC stuff pretty closely and I live in Miami and had never heard of this firm. Half a mil is a large donation for someone wholly new to the scene.
Further complicating the large donation is that PassionForest LLC is also the name of an online seller of artificial flowers from China. The Campaign Legal Center apparently spotted the donation on America For Everyone’s reports and filed a complaint with the FEC accusing the donation of violating federal laws against straw donors.
According to the Miami Herald, “Federal laws prohibit routing contributions through third-party entities or other people, thus masking the identity of the actual contributor.”
After the complaint was filed, the PAC added a memo that listed Soto-Wright as the person behind the entity. This probably would have gone unnoticed, except for the sharp eye of Herald investigative reporter Sarah Blaskey, who won a Pulitzer for the paper last year after the collapse of Champlain South tower in Surfside. (Incidentally, I could see the recovery operation from my balcony, and it was horrific.)
According to Blaskey, Soto-Wright’s spokesperson said that his PassionForest LLC is not affiliated with the Chinese company of the same name. Nevertheless, an individual who funnels a donation through an LLC may find himself similarly sanctioned by the FEC.
ModernConsensus reached out to Soto-Wright’s lawyer Samuel Brown and will update this story to include his comment if he chooses to respond.
Oddly, PassionForest LLC (the Soto-Wright version) seems to have incorporated in Delaware in November 2021—almost a year before the donation was made and way before Suarez entered the race in mid-June of 2023. According to the Herald, that incorporation took place in the exact same week that the Chinese online vendor applied for a US trademark. That doesn’t mean they’re connected, and it’s not suspicious. But once again it points to the curiously propitious timing of Mr. Soto-Wright.
He might have evaded detection this whole time, except for the FEC regulation that requires LLCs that have only a single member like PassionForest, LLC, to name the member rather than the company. That’s specifically to squelch the opportunity for generous donors simply to form an LLC for 500 bucks and use that entity to disguise their contributions.
None of this seems like a crime, or even particularly fishy. But it does point to the tension as libertarian-minded crypto enthusiasts lean into mainstream political involvement. The initial draw for so many crypto fans was its ability to combine the best features of cash — anonymity, difficult to counterfeit, easy to count — with the instantaneous and regulation-free opportunity to move it frictionlessly across platforms and even international borders.
But there are laws governing political donations. Simply wanting to remain anonymous doesn’t grant one the right to do so. As we witnessed with the massive donations Sam Bankman-Fried made to politicians, becoming the largest donor to Democratic candidates behind George Soros, crypto enthusiasts want to assert themselves in the high-stakes world of American politics. But that will mean playing by the same transparent rules as everybody else.
Mr. Soto-Wright seems to want to have his cake and eat it too. Influence and anonymity might turn out to be as elusive a pairing as “Bored Apes” and “lasting value.”