Before the spectacular implosion of the FTX cryptocurrency exchange, Sam Bankman-Fried was angling to become one of the biggest power players in Democratic politics. He allowed reporters to write extensive profiles from his Bahamas group home. He donated over $45 million to political candidates and organizations in recent years, according to a New Republic analysis, most of it to Democrats (with a healthy chunk to Republicans as well). He floated spending $1 billion in the 2024 campaign cycle. He seeded his influence with donations to most of the country’s state Democratic parties. And Bankman-Fried built a network of lobbyists to further his broad crypto interest and extend his roots in the Washington, D.C., political world.
Then, almost in an instant, the empire the 30 year old had built crashed down. In the span of about a week, his estimated fortune dropped from $15 billion to about $1 billion—still a lot, but also a 94 percent decline. His lobbyists cut ties. FTX filed for bankruptcy. He’s become toxic in fundraising circles and politics in general. Bankman-Fried is now hunkered down in his estate in Nassau, Bahamas, from which he told CNBC last Friday that his company had liabilities that were “billions of dollars larger than I thought.”
PACS and super PACS
Bankman-Fried earned attention in major Democratic circles in part for pouring $27 million into his own Protect Our Future PAC, roughly 95 percent of the money the PAC received this year. Protect Our Future didn’t contribute directly to candidates, but it spent $20 million on media that essentially provided air cover for Bankman-Fried’s preferred candidates.
He also donated to well-known Democratic super PACs: the House Democrat-aligned House Majority PAC got $6 million, and the analogous Senate Majority PAC got $500,000. Across the Aisle, a Democratic PAC that backs moderates, got $5,000.
Lesser known and more mysterious political action committees won Bankman-Fried’s money as well. This included a number of conservative groups. Bankman-Fried gave $105,000 to the Alabama Conservatives Fund, a super PAC supporting now Senator-elect Katie Britt. Similarly, the Heartland Resurgence PAC, which supported Senator John Boozman, got $50,000.
A liberal super PAC called the Center for Essential Information received $220,000 from Bankman-Fried. Another liberal PAC that backs House candidates, Vote Tripling PAC, raked in $350,000 from the young billionaire. Similarly, the Opportunity for Tomorrow PAC got $300,000 from Bankman-Fried. That PAC backed a few incumbent Democrats, Senator John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Congressman Ritchie Torres of New York among them.
State Democratic Parties
If there was any sign that the billionaire was looking to be a major player and established figure in Democratic politics, this was it: Bankman-Fried donated to 39 of the state Democratic parties and executive committees across the country, including in some of the most heated battleground states.
There is no particular geographic pattern. Bankman-Fried gave to the Montana Democratic Party, the Ohio Democratic Party, the South Carolina Democratic Party, and the Maryland Democratic Party among others. Some parties got as little as $780, while many got the very particular amount of $9,756.20 (a handful got the even more particular amount of $9,756.19).
He also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, moves that helped establish him as a heavyweight Democratic donor. He gave $50,000 to the Biden Victory Fund, the president’s joint-fundraising committee. By the end of the 2022 midterm cycle, Bankman-Fried was the second-biggest Democratic donor, behind only George Soros, and the sixth most generous political donor over all.
Interestingly, Bankman-Fried didn’t discriminate much between parties when giving to senators and Senate candidates. He donated to 17 senators. Of course, many of those senators just happened to be on financial or business focused committees. He gave to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who was working on a bipartisan crypto currency bill alongside Senator Cynthia Lummis, a Republican. Bankman-Fried not only maxed out his individual donation to Gillibrand but he also gave her joint fundraising committee, the Gillibrand Victory Fund, $10,800. Gillibrand is returning the money.
Interestingly, he made no donation to Lummis.
Bankman-Fried donated the maximum an individual can ($5,800, or $2,900 each for the primary and the general) to Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the most moderate Democratic senator and oftentimes a thorn in the Biden administration’s side. He donated to Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who is on both the Senate Finance Committee and the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.
Bankman-Fried maxed out to Senator Patty Murray, another Banking Committee member. He gave the maximum amount to Senator Alex Padilla, a member of the Senate Budget Committee. Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota, also on the Banking Committee, got a maximum donation from the young billionaire. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, got a donation from Bankman-Fried.
He maxed out to New Hampshire Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan’s reelection campaign and donated $20,800 to her joint fundraising committee. Hassan is on the Senate Finance Committee. Senator Dick Durbin’s Friends of Dick Durbin Committee got $2,900, and his leadership PAC, Prairie Political Action Committee, got $5,000. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, a member of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, got $5,700 from Bankman-Fried, and Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado’s reelection campaign got $1,000.
On the Republican side, Bankman-Fried maxed out to Senator John Hoeven of South Dakota. Ditto for Senator John Boozman of Arkansas, Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana (who is on the Senate Finance Committee), Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina (also on Senate Finance), Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Maine Senator Susan Collins.
Bankman-Fried maxed out to New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, the 2022 chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. This is particularly notable since Bankman-Fried had a stake in a number of specific congressional races.
Bankman-Fried did not discriminate between moderates and progressives. He maxed out to moderate Michigan Congresswoman Haley Stevens’s reelection campaign but also to progressive Alessandra Biaggi’s campaign in New York. Two of the most prominent rising stars of the House Democratic caucus, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Pete Aguilar of California, got maxed-out donations. Vermont Congresswoman-elect Becca Balint, who is succeeding Senator-elect Peter Welch and will be the first lesbian to represent Vermont, got a maxed out donation from Bankman-Fried as well.
Congressman Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, a moderate who tried to boost his profile through leading a quixotic battle to put a state and local tax deduction measure in the Biden administration’s infrastructure bill, got a maximum donation from the billionaire. Gottheimer in February released a bill that aimed to define a type of crypto currency.
Bankman-Fried did not shy away from contested primaries either. He donated $2,900 to Carrick Flynn of Oregon, a rookie candidate with crypto friendly allegiances. This one generated a flurry of bad press, and Flynn lost the Democratic primary in Oregon’s 6th congressional district. In New York, Bankman-Fried maxed his individual contribution to Francis Conole, a Democrat who ended up losing the race for New York’s 22nd congressional district to now Congressman-elect Brandon Williams. The outcome of that race left some New York Democrats arguing that Conole’s nomination over Air Force veteran Sarah Klee Hood represented a missed an opportunity to flip the seat from red to blue.
It seems pretty obvious that Bankman-Fried was angling to become one of Washington’s biggest financial players as he surely smelled regulation of crypto coming around the corner. And now, it seems pretty obvious that he is not going to become that. Even Washington has some standards.