Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) made great efforts to be the “acceptable face” of crypto. His political maneuvers will cast a long shadow over the industry.
Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced former CEO of FTX, was one of crypto’s most active advocates in Washington D.C. The tech mogul is now spending his time under house arrest awaiting trial. Prior, he was the second biggest donor to the Democratic Party behind George Soros.
Bankman-Fried donated $5.2 million to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign in 2020. Additionally, another $40 million to other Democrats ahead of the 2022 midterm election.
FTX has attempted to retrieve political donations given out on behalf of the jailed crypto founder, and other executives. The company’s new CEO, John Ray III, asked for the return of the money to the bankruptcy estate. Donation recipients have until February 28, 2023, to return funds to FTX debtors.
At the time of writing, The Democratic National Committee has agreed to return $850,000 to FTX. The equivalent of 2.2% of the donations received from Bankman-Fried and other FTX executives.
If the FTX Debtors don’t get their payments back, they can take legal action to force the other party to return the money. Proceedings will take place in the Bankruptcy Court and interest charged from the date legal action starts.
Sam Bankman-Fried Made Billions in Political Donations
The disgraced former CEO’s political activities were intentionally designed for a positive public profile. Not only did he donate to Joe Biden in his race against Trump in 2020, but also spread his wealth across the width and breadth of Washington. Including the Georgia Senate runoff races in 2021, where he donated over $5 million to support the Democratic candidates, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.
He also personally contributed to at least a dozen congressional campaigns. Many who publicly received funds have committed to returning them.
SBF’s apparent kindness went beyond individual politicians. In 2018, Bankman-Fried donated $1 million to Swing Left, a progressive organization focused on flipping swing districts in the United States House of Representatives.
But one of the most surprising donations was $700,000 to the Working Families Party (WFP) in 2020. The WFP is a minor progressive political party that benefits from New York’s electoral fusion laws allowing the party to support another party’s candidate when they feel it aligns with their platform. Since 2004, they have always supported the Democratic nominee for President. But in 2020, their first choice was Senator Elizabeth Warren — crypto’s fiercest enemy in Washington.
The Disgraced CEO Played Both Sides
SBF’s progressive contributions may have been half of what he really donated. Bankman-Fried told crypto content creator Tiffany Fong that he “donated about the same amount to both parties.”
“All my Republican donations were dark,” he said. “The reason was not for regulatory reasons, it’s because reporters freak the f**k out if you donate to Republicans. They’re all super liberal, and I didn’t want to have that fight.”
Prosecutors claimed Bankman-Fried attempted to build relationships on both sides of the aisle in order to further his policy goals. The billions in stolen customer funds were used to make “large political donations,” the SEC complaint alleged.
Bankman-Fried and others are also accused of violating federal campaign finance laws by making contributions in the names of others. The donations were to campaigns and political action committees and were at least $25,000. The indictment also alleges a conspiracy to make corporate contributions in New York that were reported in the name of another person.
“All this dirty money was used in service of Bankman-Fried’s desire to buy bipartisan influence and impact the direction of public policy,” said Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Crypto and Politics Peaked in 2022
It is hard now to imagine how far the former FTX CEO has fallen in the eyes of the political elite. Less than a year ago, he was sharing the stage with former President Bill Clinton, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the exclusive Crypto Bahamas event.
Last year, the possibility of friendly, bipartisan legislation written with input from the industry was on the cards. Fast forward to today, and the relationship between crypto lobbyists and most politicians is cold or adversarial.
“What matters to me is [Bankman-Fried] spread money around Capitol Hill like it was dishwater, and nobody stopped at the time to ask any relevant questions about this company,” said Senator John Kennedy.
In addition to Elizabeth Warren, Kennedy has joined the investigation into crypto-friendly bank Silvergate, which has been linked to FTX.
Relations on Capitol Hill would likely have cooled post-FTX, regardless of Sam Bankman-Fried’s political donations. But the fact that crypto’s lobbying dollars ended up in so many pockets has produced a rebound effect. Politicians want to be seen to be cracking down on crypto. Especially those who have received campaign contributions from the industry.
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