In the final months of this year’s midterms cycle, the teams behind Sam Bankman-Fried and FTX began to grow concerned about a Republican takeover of Congress that would leave him poorly positioned in Washington, I’m told. S.B.F., after all, had spent about $40 million boosting mostly Democrats, and as the C.E.O. of FTX—the largely unregulated, now bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange—he could see that was likely to be a liability in a G.O.P.-run legislature. He was saying all the right things about his desire to be bipartisan. But there was no doubt that he appeared, on paper at least, to be just another Democratic mega-donor.
That looming image problem was why, in the final days of the election season, FTX cut a newly-disclosed $1 million check to Senator Mitch McConnell’s main super PAC. The donation was effectively another way of “hedging the bet,” according to a person familiar with the FTX team’s thinking. The S.B.F.-FTX team “seemed pretty confident that [McConnell] would be the Majority Leader and there’d be a big margin in the House.” It also explained why in the middle of this year, FTX hired Paula Dukes, a top Republican fundraising strategist with close ties to congressional leadership, to join the company’s and S.B.F.’s campaign to develop “a Republican money strategy” to make inroads on the right and “have more parity.”
Bankman-Fried’s little-known strategy to play both sides was made public this week after he remarked that he believed he donated “about the same amount” of money to Republicans this cycle as he did to Democrats, but elected to donate to the right through undisclosed “dark money” so the media wouldn’t “freak the fuck out.” That comment raised eyebrows all across the world of G.O.P. fundraising, and in Democratic circles too, especially as S.B.F. came under relentless attacks in conservative media for connections to the left. “Is this true, do you think? Or is he bullshitting?” one senior Democratic official asked me, a question I’ve received repeatedly by both top Democrats and top Republicans in private over the last 48 hours.