Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of FTX, says he donated equally to both Democratic and Republican politicians before his cryptocurrency platform filed for bankruptcy earlier this month, wiping out billions of dollars in customer deposits. And that fact is going to come as a real shock to right-wing political operatives on Fox News who’ve tried to claim Democrats were the only ones beholden to FTX cash.
“I donated to both parties. I donated about the same amount to both parties,” Bankman-Fried said, according to a November 16 phone call published to YouTube by crypto commentator Tiffany Fong on Tuesday.
Bankman-Fried’s claim paints an even more perplexing picture of a man who positioned himself as an ethical billionaire who was very publicly the second largest donor to Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections, but was donating just as much to the Republicans behind closed doors.
The 30-year-old Bankman-Fried, who’s reportedly still living in the Bahamas, said that he was able to make his donations anonymously because of Citizens United, a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case that declared unlimited political donations were a form of speech and should be protected by the First Amendment. The case has allowed millions of dollars of so-called “dark money” to enter the political system without disclosures on who’s making the payments.
“[My Republican donations were] not generally known, because despite Citizens United being literally the highest profile Supreme Court case of the decade and the thing everyone talks about when they talk about campaign finance, for some reason, in practice, no one can possibly fathom the idea that someone, in practice, actually gave dark,” Bankman-Fried explained on the phone call.
Bankman-Fried was very public about giving to Democrats, even appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press Reports to discuss his left-leaning donations with host Chuck Todd before the 2022 midterms. But Bankman-Fried’s donations to Republicans were done secretly, according to the former crypto billionaire, because most reporters are “super liberal.”
“All my Republican donations were dark. And the reason, was not for regulatory reasons, it’s because reporters freak the fuck 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,” Bankman-Fried said on the call, claiming he was the “second or third biggest” donor to Republicans in 2022.
Right-wing media figures have spent the past two weeks raising questions about Bankman-Fried’s donation of roughly $40 million to Democrats, even asking if they skewed the result of the 2022 midterms.
“What about the money Sam Bankman-Fried gave to the Democratic Party? Will the Democrats have to give it back to the people who were defrauded?” Tucker Carlson asked on his November 16 show, mistakenly saying Bankman-Fried donated $40 billion, rather than $40 million.
Tiffany Fong, who says she’s not a formal journalist but is comfortable with the term “citizen journalist,” published her conversations with Bankman-Fried to YouTube because a lot of the conversations weren’t translating well to Twitter. Fong posted one phone call from November 16 and another from November 20. FTX filed for bankruptcy on November 11.
Both phone calls should be taken with a grain of salt, as Bankman-Fried knew they’d become public in some fashion, which likely shaded the way he presented himself. Bankman-Fried, who was reportedly gambling away billions of dollars in customer deposits from FTX on his hedge fund Alameda Research, definitely knew how to finesse reporters and politicians, though he’s been caught unaware at times, like when he gave an interview to Vox that he didn’t know would be on the record.
Bankman-Fried tweeted that he thought he was talking to a friend when he more or less admitted to pulling some extremely shady moves with FTX funds in his interview with Vox earlier this month, saying “fuck regulators,” and suggesting that a lot of the “dumb shit” he said to seem altruistic was just a public relations ploy.
“You were really good at talking about ethics, for someone who kind of saw it all as a game with winners and losers,” Vox reporter Kelsey Piper, who had been friends with Bankman-Fried in the past, texted.
“ya, hehe, I had to be,” Bankman-Fried responded in a series of texts.
“it’s what reputations are made of, to some extent. I feel bad for those who get fucked by it. by this dumb game we woke westerners play where we say all the right shiboleths and so everyone likes us,” Bankman-Fried continued.
Bankman-Fried didn’t know his texts with a Vox reporter would be published, perhaps giving us a more unvarnished look into his mind, but the crypto tycoon’s discussions with Tiffany Fong exist in a gray area. Fong told Gizmodo that Bankman-Fried knew the content of the conversations might become public but he didn’t know the audio itself would be posted.
“To be honest I toyed with other methods of releasing info like Twitter threads but it was difficult to convey things like sarcasm / remorse in writing without being attacked for ‘sympathizing’ with Sam,” Fong told Gizmodo via email early Wednesday.
“So I ultimately thought the audio would be best to convey his responses / tone so listeners could make their own judgements on his claims. Also, because I don’t work at a reputable publication, it’s difficult to quote Sam without questions about my credibility (e.g. suggestions that I could be ‘making this all up’). So ultimately, I decided to post the audio,” Fong continued.
The calls provide some interesting takes from Bankman-Fried, including his belief that if FTX had never filed for bankruptcy, “all users would be whole and withdrawals would be on on FTX right now—not just U.S., international as well.”
But that perspective seems to be wildly optimistic, perhaps bordering on delusional, based on the facts we already know in FTX’s bankruptcy filings. Bankman-Fried stepped down as the CEO of FTX and the man who replaced him, John J. Ray III, who also took over Enron after that company’s infamous collapse in 2001, said about FTX, “never in my career have I seen such a complete failure of corporate controls.”
Obviously everything that Bankman-Fried says at this point needs to be placed in the context that he was running a company valued at $32 billion, becoming a billionaire himself, and he ran that company into the ground through highly questionable actions. Crypto investors who’ve lost money with FTX are calling for Bankman-Fried to be jailed, while regulators in the Bahamas keep insisting that investigations take time and that other countries had a responsibility to keep FTX honest.
The Bankman-Fried saga is far from over, with the DOJ and SEC both reportedly investigating the collapse of FTX, and revelations that Moneyball author Michael Lewis was following the crypto billionaire around for about six months before the company imploded. Lewis is even shopping the movie rights to Hollywood before he’s even written a word of his upcoming book.
Incredibly, Bankman-Fried is scheduled to be interviewed by CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin on Wednesday. Bankman-Fried was booked to speak at the DealBook Summit in New York before his company’s implosion, but the interview will be especially interesting now that everything went to shit.
Sorkin has tweeted that nothing will be off limits in their discussion, but it’s not clear if Bankman-Fried will be flying in for the interview or participating virtually from the Bahamas. If he flies in, it will definitely become a circus.