Nov 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Bankman-Fried spent millions on Dem campaigns

Photo illustration of Sam Bankman-Fried hugging the US Capitol building.

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Dozens of Congressional candidates — most of them Democrats — received campaign contributions or indirect financial support from Sam Bankman-Fried, the crypto tycoon whose company collapsed last week.

The big picture: It's unclear where Bankman-Fried's money came from. Forensic accountants and bankruptcy courts are on the case, but it could take months to untangle FTX's web of comingled funds.

  • Many of the campaigns, including some of the losing ones, already spent the direct donations.
  • Others have considered returning the direct donations, but don't want to be seen as helping to fund Bankman-Fried's legal defense.
  • Another option is to donate the money to charity, as Reps. Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.) and Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) recently did.

By the numbers: Bankman-Fried spent around $37 million during the last election cycle, almost all of which went to boosting Democratic candidates and causes. That made him the party's second-largest donor, according to OpenSecrets, and the sixth largest overall.

  • The biggest outlay was $27 million to a Democratic political action committee called Protect Our Future.
  • Its beneficiaries include: Carrick Flynn ($10.5 million), who lost a Democratic primary in Oregon's 6th District; incumbent Georgia Rep. Lucy McBath ($2 million) and incoming Texas Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett ($1.5 million).
  • Others winning campaigns that Protect Our future spent at least $1 million to support include Valerie Fouschee (D-N.C.), Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Ohio) and Robert Garcia (D-Calif.). Adam Holler, a Michigan Democrat who lost, also received $1 million in the PAC's support.
  • Axios reached out to each of those candidates for comment, but didn't receive any on-the-record replies.
  • He also donated more than half a million dollars to the Democratic National Committee, which also didn't return a request for comment, and made donations to Congressional and Senate campaign committees for both parties.
  • Bankman-Fried also made maximum donations to many individual candidates, including Republican senators John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.).

Elsewhere: Ryan Salame, a top Bankman-Fried lieutenant at FTX, also was a major political donor during the 2021-2022 election cycle.

  • His $19 million in spending all went to Republican candidates and committees, and made him the GOP's 10th-largest donor.

The big picture: Last spring, Bankman-Fried pledged to spend upwards of $1 billion on the 2024 election, particularly if Donald Trump were to run.

  • "[$1 billion] is a decent thing to look at as a — I would hate to say hard ceiling, because who knows what’s going to happen between now and then — but at least sort of as a soft ceiling,” Bankman-Fried said earlier this year on the What’s Your Problem podcast.

The bottom line: The business and tech worlds are still trying to digest FTX's sudden implosion, and to limit any possible contagion. The political world will need to deal with its own sort of loss, including fallout for those who unknowingly received ill-gotten gains.

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