The Notorious S.B.F.

Sam Bankman Fried
The online focus on Sean McElwee, a media-savvy pollster, became more negative following the downfall of Sam Bankman-Fried (pictured). Photo: Tom Williams/Getty
Theodore Schleifer
February 15, 2022

Every so often in political and philanthropic consulting, there comes along a client whom everyone wants—needs—to find a connection to in order to pitch and, perhaps, land a hefty payday. Right now, that’s Sam Bankman-Fried, the provocative, whip-smart, and omnipresent 29-year-old C.E.O. of the crypto exchange FTX who has, in the words of Cory Booker last week, “a much more glorious afro than I once had.” Bankman-Fried, or S.B.F., as he is now universally known in this world, has been an in-demand character for months, but the chase to woo him has grown more feverish of late as he has expanded the tentacles of his political machine in new and fascinating ways. I know several Democratic advisers who are trying their damndest to get in front of him right now.

Two years ago, no one had heard of the founder of FTX, then a pipsqueak competitor in a market dominated by Coinbase. I first discovered S.B.F. on a campaign filing in the fall of 2020, when he and an LLC he founded gave $10 million to Future Forward, a long operating-in-stealth super PAC. I like to think I cover the donor class as fervently as anyone, but I had no earthly idea who this guy was. (Google Trends data tells me, comfortingly, that few other people did then, either.) 

Sam and I spoke off-the-record that fall, and I published an on-the-record interview with him a few months later. Of course, that was before his net worth reached $23 billion and counting. Before his company bought the naming rights to the arena of Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat. Before he moved to the Bahamas and pregamed the Super Bowl with Shaq. Before he testified before Congress and fielded compliments on his hair from a U.S. Senator. Uh, yeah, things have gotten a little heady.