One of the weird little elements to the Sam Bankman-Fried debacle —and there are so many, and we journalists are quite grateful for them — has been the determined way the media has tried to make his political donations appear bi-partisan.
“The FTX scandal is prompting lawmakers from both parties,” wrote Politico, “to symbolically give up campaign contributions from the crypto exchange’s top executives, underscoring the firm’s political toxicity in the aftermath of its collapse.” “[Sam] Bankman-Fried, 30, and his younger brother Gabriel donated lavishly to members of both political parties,” the New York Post noted.
In fact, SBF was the seventh largest donor of the entire 2022 cycle, according to Open Secrets. His $38,837,000 in total donations puts him just ahead of Steven Schwarzman from Blackrock ($36,000,058 ) and Peter Thiel ($35,250,000) and just behind Mike Bloomberg ($41,262,025). (George Soros dwarfed all others, with 100% of his $176,752,713 going to candidates and causes Open Secrets calls “Liberals.”)
Of SBF’s nearly $39 million, 35,872,000 went to “Liberals” while only $155,000 found its way to “Conservatives.” That means 99.57% went to those Open Secrets categorizes as Liberals and .43% went to “Conservatives.” Even in badly divided Washington, 99 to 1 does not qualify as “bipartisan.”
On the other hand, it is true that the company seems to have understood that political power and influence required a more diversified approach. If you’re going to loot customer accounts – as SBF is alleged to have done – those funds need to find their way into both blue and red pockets. The co-CEO of FTX’s digital markets arm, Ryan Salame, played the role of Republican donor and he did so nearly to the degree SBF himself did with Democrats.
According to Open Secrets, Salome was the 15th biggest donor of 2022, giving $23,367,000 during the election cycle. 100% of those donations went to conservative candidates and causes.
Interestingly, it seems that the Republicans may come out of the deal in better style than the Democrats. While there has been enormous pressure brought to bear on recipients of SBF money, conservative recipients of money from those affiliated with FTX haven’t faced the same high-profile calls to donate those donations contributions to charity.
According to federal election records, SBF’s donations in 2022 included $27 million to Protect Our Future, the liberal PAC that spent generously on Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives, including a misguided $10 on Carrick Flynn, who lost his Democratic primary in Oregon. Other beneficiaries of Protect Our Future included incumbents Lucy McBath (D-GA), Shontel Brown (D-OH), Robert Garcia (D-NC), and Valerie Foushee (D-NC). They all won re-election. SBF also gave directly to individual candidates, including Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL) and a rare Republican recipient, Kevin Hern (R-OK). Both were said to have given their SBF donations ($2900 for Garcia and $5000 for Hern) to charity.
Bankman-Fried contributed $1 million to the Senate Majority PAC, which supports Democrats for the Senate, and $6 million to the House Majority PAC. Previously, during the 2020 election cycle, SBF had been the second-largest donor to the Biden campaign, according to the Daily Wire.
Meanwhile, Salame was busy promoting Republicans, who have escaped much of the reputational pressure, despite receiving millions in cash generated by FTX. Well before the exchange blew up, Salame’s love interest Michelle Bond had cast herself as a fire-breathing MAGA candidate from Long Island’s first congressional district. Bond has impressive crypto cred, having headed the Association for Digital Asset Markets, a trade group that advocates on crypto’s behalf. But in August 2022, she was trounced in the Republican primary, losing 47-28 to Nick LaLota, who went on to defeat Democrat Bridget Fleming for the seat left vacant when upstart Lee Zeldin overperformed in his race for New York governor.
Salame didn’t contribute directly to Bond. But he didn’t have to. He gave at least $867,000 to the Stand for New York Committee, which together with Crypto Freedom PAC spend $1 million against LaLota.
Happily for other Republicans, Salame had plenty left over to spend on candidates he wasn’t dating.
The FTX exec gave $12 million to American Dream Federal Action, which donated on behalf of successful US Senate campaigns such as those for Ted Budd (R-NC) and Katie Britt (R-Alabama).
In January, Coindesk ran a comprehensive review of FTX-affiliated political donations. It concluded that fully 37% of the 535 senators and representatives had received money from FTX executives, directly or indirectly. This is especially troubling because Bankman-Fried faces not only charges related to financial crimes but of illegal campaign contributions. Of the 196 House members who were contacted by Coindesk, 143 didn’t respond; 34 said they’d donated the FTX money they’d received and the remaining 19 said they had returned the money or planned to do so.
The New York 1 race is actually rather instructive for anyone concerned about the money sloshing around in politics. LaLota had over $1 million spent against him and less than $300k for him in the primary but soundly defeated Bond, who had over $1.3 million supporting her and no big money opposing her. And then LaLota won the general in a contested district with a ticket headed by an incumbent Democratic governor, after again being outspent nearly 2-to-1 by Fleming.
Twin morals have emerged from this sorry story. First, don’t count on political donations to deliver votes. And if you are looking for political donations, you’re better off getting them from lower-profile donors.