Disgraced FTX co-founder Sam Bankman-Fried faces a litany of charges tied to the collapse of his cryptocurrency exchange. But along with being an outsized figure in crypto, Bankman-Fried (nicknamed SBF) is also one of the largest political donors in American politics, and has been accused of violating campaign finance laws as part of a scheme to illegally funnel millions of dollars to candidates and political action groups ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
The indictment claims that Bankman-Fried falsely reported political contributions that were actually being sourced from Alameda Research, an investment firm that he controlled, using customer money. Federal prosecutors said he also made corporate contributions to candidates and political action committees in New York that were reported in the name of another person.
“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,” said Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, at a press conference on Tuesday. “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.”
The campaign finance allegations come a day after Bankman-Fried was arrested on criminal charges in the Bahamas.
Here’s what we know about Bankman-Fried’s political contributions.
SBF was a huge political donor according to public records
Bankman-Fried contributed more than $70 million to election campaigns in less than 18 months, placing him among the nation’s top political donors. He personally gave at least $40 million to politicians and political action committees ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, mostly to Democrats and liberal-leaning groups, making him the second overall top donor to Democrats, only behind George Soros, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Bankman-Fried also donated a significant amount to fundraising committees and super PACs affiliated with both parties. The biggest single recipient was Protect Our Future, a Democratic-aligned super PAC that claims it was “designed to help elect candidates who will be champions for pandemic prevention.” The group received $27 million from Bankman-Fried, and supports effective altruism, a philanthropic movement premised on the use of reason and data to allocate money, which Bankman-Fried also supports. Beneficiaries of Protect Our Future include Carrick Flynn, who lost a Democratic primary in Oregon’s 6th District, George Rep. Lucy McBath and Texas Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett.
Bankman-Fried also gave a combined $7 million to the two main super PACs supporting Democratic candidates for Congress in the 2022 elections.
In addition, he personally contributed the individual maximum of $5,800 to more than a dozen members of Congress including Senators Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, and Sen. John Boozman, an Arkansas Republican, who lead the Senate Agriculture Committee, which has a role in regulating cryptocurrency. Stabenow and Boozman introduced a bill together this year that was intended to give FTX a path toward regulatory compliance in the U.S.
Other lawmakers that received maximum donations from Bankman-Fried include Democratic Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, and Cory Booker of New Jersey; and Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine.
In total, federal election filings show that Stabenow and Hassan were the candidates to receive the most money directly from Bankman-Fried this year, at over $20,000 each.
SBF claims he gave tens of millions in untraceable donations to Republicans
Although federal election receipts show that Bankman-Fried donated almost exclusively to Democrats, he claimed on a November phone call with YouTuber Tiffany Fong that he donated an equal amount to Republicans and Democrats.
“All my Republican donations were dark,” he said, referring to political donations that are not publicly disclosed in FEC filings. “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.”
Given that he donated nearly $40 million to Democrats in the 2022 election cycle—and he admitted to giving an equal amount to Republicans—his total political contributions may have actually been around $80 million.
Stuart McPhail, senior litigation counsel at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group that filed an FEC complaint against Bankman-Fried last week, says his claims and the campaign finance charges could spur changes to election laws.
“There are a number of loopholes and limits that Sam Bankman-Fried was able to exploit that Congress can fix,” he tells TIME. “He directed money to influence elections but hid where that money came from.”
SBF was a major Biden donor
The former crypto king made one of the largest donations to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign in 2020, contributing $5.2 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The White House on Tuesday refused to answer questions about whether the President would return those political donations in light of the federal charges, claiming the Hatch Act prevented the executive branch from commenting on political campaign activities.
Crypto spends more on political donations than nearly any other industry
Just a few years ago, cryptocurrency was a relatively obscure topic in Washington. But with FTX’s large contributions and Bankman-Fried’s steady lobbying efforts, people and groups tied to crypto firms were among the biggest donors in politics during the most recent election cycle. Campaign donations from the crypto world exceeded those of the defense and auto industries combined, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Political donations from FTX or its top executives accounted for most of the industry’s political spending.
Read more: Crypto Goes to Washington
Many lawmakers are returning SBF-linked donations
A number of lawmakers from both parties are facing growing pressure to give up their campaign contributions from Bankman-Fried and other FTX executives in light of allegations that he stole customer funds.
The campaign of Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic candidate for Texas governor this year, said it returned a $1 million SBF donation four days before Election Day, according to The Texas Tribune. Other lawmakers donated the money to charity, including Reps. Chuy Garcia, Democrat of Illinois, and Kevin Hern, Republican of Oklahoma.
A litany of other lawmakers, including Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, have previously said they would give the donations they got from Bankman-Fried to charity.
However, the indictment does not list which of Bankman-Fried’s donations were allegedly made illegally. It also does not list the names of additional co-conspirators who may have been used to funnel the money.
More Must-Reads From TIME
- Inside the White House Program to Share America's Secrets
- Meet the 2024 Women of the Year
- East Palestine, One Year After Train Derailment
- The Closers: 18 People Working to End the Racial Wealth Gap
- Long COVID Doesn’t Always Look Like You Think It Does
- Column: The New Antisemitism
- The 13 Best New Books to Read in March
- Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time
Write to Nik Popli at email@example.com