George Santos and Sam Bankman-Fried share a surprising amount in common. They both had meteoric rises to the top by spinning self-aggrandizing narratives, and they both spectacularly fell back to earth when those webs unraveled. While Bankman-Fried is under house arrest awaiting a criminal trial related to the collapse of FTX, Santos is facing newly unsealed charges of fraud and money laundering from the Department of Justice related to his unlikely congressional victory last November.
The two men each seemed to understand that money—and how to spend it—was key to their ascent. According to a report from Puck, Santos received donations from FTX executives as part of an agreement with the crypto lobbyist Michelle Bond, who was also the girlfriend of Ryan Salame, a prodigious Republican donor and the co-CEO of FTX, and ran an unsuccessful bid for a congressional seat in New York. The campaigns of Santos and Bond engaged in a donor swap, where they encouraged each candidate’s supporters to contribute maxed-out donations to the other. Records, for example, show Ryan Salame’s father contributing the max amount to both Santos and Bond’s campaigns.
In his brief tenure as a crypto kingpin, Bankman-Fried proved to be an adept power player in Washington, showering politicians with donations and nearly influencing the passage of digital assets legislation that likely would have benefited his budding empire. While he publicly supported largely liberal figures, he later admitted to having donated just as much money to Republican politicians—he shrewdly argued that the revelation would damage his media image. A report from CoinDesk found that one in three members of Congress received donations from FTX executives.
The political donations have also become a pillar of the Department of Justice’s case against Bankman-Fried. In February, prosecutors revealed four new charges against him, alleging he’d given tens of millions of dollars through so-called “straw donors,” meaning he funneled money through other people to avoid campaign finance restrictions. Those two straw donors, according to prosecutors, were Salame and Nishad Singh, the former director of engineering at FTX who turned against Bankman-Fried.
After months of investigations into George Santos regarding his campaign management, several of the 13 charges unsealed last week related to political donations, including an allegation that he directed funds to his personal bank account.
Donors to Santos with ties to FTX weren’t restricted to Salame and his parents, but also included Daniel Friedberg, FTX’s one-time chief compliance officer and a resident of Washington State, who gave the max $5,800 donation in June 2022, according to Federal Election Commission records. Data from the campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets reveals that FTX US was the top contributor to Santos’s campaign, with individuals from the company donating $29,000—nearly $6,000 more than the second-highest organization.
While it is unclear how the political relationship between FTX booster Michelle Bond and Santos began, the two operations are inextricably linked. And as the criminal trials of Bankman-Fried and Santos grow closer, with Bankman-Fried’s scheduled for October and Santos pleading not guilty last week, the details are just starting to emerge.
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