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FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried gave thousands to Colorado Democratic campaigns in the 2022 elections

Grand jury, regulators claim Bankman-Fried tried to influence elections with donations, including in Colorado
The FTX Arena logo is seen where the Miami Heat basketball team plays on Nov. 12, 2022, in Miami. Sam Bankman-Fried, the former CEO of failed cryptocurrency firm FTX, has been arrested in the Bahamas at the request of the U.S. government, the U.S. attorney’s office in New York said Monday, Dec. 12. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File)

A federal grand jury and securities regulators have charged that cryptocurrency mogul Sam Bankman-Fried attempted to influence the regulation of his industry by strategically making campaign contributions using other people's money.

Some of that cash found its way to Colorado campaigns.

Bankman-Fried, his family members and PACs he funded gave more than $40,000 to identified candidates and party committees this cycle – all of it to Democrats.

The money spanned nearly all levels of government, from the Arapahoe County Democratic Party, to a state house candidate, to a PAC run by U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper.

Three of those campaigns said they would donate the contribution to charity, including Hickenlooper's political action committee, Giddy Up PAC, which received $3,000 from Bankman-Fried’s brother, Gabriel, in 2021.

“Sen. Hickenlooper intends to donate the money to a victims' compensation fund or charity,” reads an email from a spokesman for Hickenlooper’s office.

Bankman-Fried was arrested Monday in the Bahamas, where his bankrupt crypto exchange, FTX, was headquartered. An unsealed indictment lists charges including conspiracy to commit wire and commodities fraud. Prosecutors allege that Bankman-Fried defrauded investors of billions in deposits.

In a letter to the judge in the case Wednesday, prosecutors for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Southern District of New York allege that Bankman-Fried violated campaign finance laws, evading “contribution dollar limits, corporate donation limits, and donation reporting requirements, and was in service of the defendant’s desire to influence the direction of policy and legislation on the cryptocurrency industry.”

Bankman-Fried, and those in his orbit, gave openly to Democratic candidates, but he also boasted that he was among the largest GOP donors in the country.

“All my Republican donations were dark. The reason was not the regulatory reason. It’s because reporters freak the f – out if you donate to a Republican because they’re all super liberal,” Bankman-Fried was alleged to have said in a Nov. 16 interview posted on YouTube, and included in a complaint to the Federal Elections Commission.

“We are not aware of any money coming from Bankman-Fried to us or other CO Republicans,” The Colorado Republican Party Executive Director Joe Jackson wrote in an email.

So-called “dark money” contributions are not publicly disclosed.

But plenty of FTX-connected donations were disclosed under state and federal campaign finance laws, and all of those in Colorado went to Democrats.

Bankman-Fried gave $3,350 directly to the Colorado Democratic Party in March of this year, and $2,900 to Joe Neguse’s congressional committee in October.

“The campaign is not keeping the contribution and will be donating it to an appropriate charity,” Teddy Adams, campaign manager for Neguse, wrote in an email.

The Colorado Democratic Party did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Gabriel Bankman-Fried, the FTX founder’s brother, who ran a nonprofit funded by Sam called Guarding Against Pandemics, gave direct contributions of $4,025 to the Arapahoe County Democratic Party in July, and $400 to Democrat Ruby Dickson’s successful campaign for State House district 37 in Centennial.

Pandemic preparedness was a cause Sam Bankman-Fried was passionate about. And he bankrolled Guarding Against Pandemics, which spent more than $1 million to influence pandemic response, and hired dozens of lobbyists in DC, according to The Washington Post.

Ruby Dickson said she donated the $400 contribution “to the National Compassion Fund for Club Q Victims and Survivors, which goes directly to victims of the Club Q shooting.”

Gabriel also gave $2,900 in September to Rep-elect Brittany Pettersen’s congressional campaign in Sept.

Neither Pettersen nor her campaign responded to multiple requests for comment.

Sam Bankman-Fried’s contributions came in indirect ways too. He gave $27 million in contributions to Protect our Future PAC, based in Arizona. The PAC gave $24,501.11, to a Colorado independent expenditure committee called Champions of Tomorrow, which reported spending $4,049.87 on behalf of Ruby Dickson, for the purpose of “phone calls.” Another $20,421.24 is listed as an in-kind contribution for mailers

Dickson pointed to a tweet thread she wrote, when she learned of the mailers sent in support of her campaign, she emphasized that she did not send the mailer, and urged groups supporting her “to be transparent and follow the rules.”

Champions of Tomorrow lists its purpose as supporting “pragmatic candidates, regardless of party affiliation, who take the long term view on policy planning and are focused on helping us prepare for the next pandemic, who are running for state legislature.”

Sam Bankman-Fried appears to have long been interested in Colorado politicians. His first federal race contribution was to Michael Bennet in 2010, for $1,000 when he was a student in California and nine years before he founded FTX.

Bennet’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

To read more stories from Colorado Public Radio, visit www.cpr.org.