Sam Bankman-Fried donated over $40 million in the 2022 election cycle. Where did it go?
( CBS )
Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder and former CEO of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, made about $40 million in political donations in the 2022 election cycle, according to a CBS News review of Federal Elections Commission (FEC) campaign finance data.
Bankman-Fried was charged with a variety of financial crimes on Tuesday, including campaign finance violations and a "scheme and artifice to defraud" FTX customers by using their funds to pay off debts of his other company, Alameda Research. He is currently in jail in the Bahamas.
Public records of Bankman-Fried's money show it primarily went to support Democratic committees and candidates. He donated $6 million to the House Majority PAC, the main outside group supporting House Democrats. He also gave $250,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and $66,500 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
The bulk of his political donations — $27 million — bankrolled the "Protect Our Future PAC," a group advocating for pandemic preparedness.
The "Protect Our Future PAC" spent $24.2 million on independent expenditures (mailers, ads) to support 19 Democratic House candidates including Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia and recently elected Reps. Maxwell Frost, of Florida, and Jasmine Crockett, of Texas. Carrick Flynn, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in the Oregon Democratic primary, saw $10 million in outside spending from the "Protect Our Future PAC."
Under federal campaign finance law, candidates are supposed to have no say or knowledge of outside groups spending on independent expenditures to support or oppose them.
Bankman-Fried said in an interview in late November that his donations to Republicans were roughly equal to those he made to Democrats, but that "all my Republican donations were dark." He also said he made all of these donations during the primary contests.
"Reporters freak the f*** out if you donate to a Republican, because they're all super liberal. And I didn't want to have that fight, so I just made all the Republican ones dark," he said in the interview, adding he thought he may have been the "second or third biggest" GOP donor this cycle.
This quote in particular prompted an FEC complaint from the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, which says Bankman-Fried was able to direct millions "to influence federal elections while evading federal laws that require disclosure of the true source of the contributions."
One federal charge levied against Bankman-Fried alleges that he and allies made political donations under other people's names, which would be a campaign finance violation.
"West Realm Shire Services," listed as the official PAC for FTX, gave $1 million to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's Senate Leadership Fund, as well as $750,000 to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's Congressional Leadership Fund.
"All of this dirty money was used in service of Bankman-Fried's desire to buy bipartisan influence and impact the direction of public policy in Washington," U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams said at a press conference Tuesday. "These contributions were disguised to look like they were coming from wealthy co-conspirators, when in fact the contributions were funded by Alameda Research with stolen customer money."
In addition, two individuals that worked with Bankman-Fried, co-CEO of FTX Digital Markeys Ryan Salame and FTX director of engineering Nishad Singh, also made millions of dollars in political donations. Neither has yet been indicted on the same federal charges Bankman-Fried has, and a court filing Wednesday suggests Salame may have provided tips about Bankman-Fried's actions.
Salame spent $24.5 million in donations, primarily to Republican candidates through the party's "WinRed" platform. He gave $2.5 million to the Senate Leadership Fund and $2 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund. He also gave $89,200 to the National Republican Congressional Committee and $109,500 to the National Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Salame also donated $13 million to the "American Dream Federal Action" hybrid PAC, which spent $12.2 million on independent expenditures to support Republican Senate and House candidates such as Republican Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois and Senator-elect Katie Britt of Alabama.
Singh made more than $12 million in donations, with $2.25 million going to Women Vote!, the independent expenditure arm for Emily's List; $1.1 million to the LGBTQ Victory Fund and $1 million to the Senate Majority Fund, the main outside group for Senate Democrats.
Singh and Bankman-Fried donated a combined $6 million to the "Future Forward PAC" in 2020. This PAC supported Biden's 2020 Presidential run.
A majority of campaigns that received direct contributions from Bankman-Fried told CBS News they have already donated his donations or plan to do so. Because of federal contribution limits, these numbers are much smaller than his other donations to PACs and range from $2,900 to $5,800.
Sen. Tina Smith, a Democrat from Minnesota, received $5,800 from Bankman-Fried this year. Her office says she already donated those campaign contributions to Planned Parenthood North Central States.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana who is up for re-election in 2026, received $5,800 from him in August 2021. Cassidy spokesperson Ty Bofferding said the campaign is not keeping the donation "and is planning to contribute the funds to an appropriate cause."
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, received $5,800 from Bankman-Fried in June 2022. In addition, the "Gillibrand Victory Fund" joint fundraising group got $10,800 from Bankman-Fried. Gillibrand spokesman Evan Lukaske said she donated the funds to Arriva, Inc., a nonprofit based in the Bronx borough of New York City "that aims to promote individual wealth and economic development in low-to-moderate income communities."
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat from New Jersey, is expected to donate the $5,800 he received to charity, a spokesperson said. Sen. Alex Padilla of California donated the contributions he received last month, according to his office.
Two notable Democrats, incoming House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, also picked up contributions from Bankman-Fried, and are planning to donate the funds they received, according to Bloomberg.
Bankman-Fried donated $5,800 multiple times to Maine Sen. Susan Collins' campaign. She returned excess donations in September and October of 2021, citing contribution limits. A representative for Collins says her campaign plans to give the rest of Bankman-Fried's donations to charity. Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, a potential 2024 Senate candidate in Arizona, also returned an excess donation from Bankman-Fried in March of 2021.
"I never solicited a donation from SBF, but he did donate to my campaign. We are an operation that rejects corporate PAC $$ which means we also reject stolen money," tweeted Frost. "I don't want or need support from those scamming working folks, and I'm going to fight to get dark money out of politics."