The Passion of S.B.F. & The Next MacKenzie

Nicole Shanahan
Nicole Shanahan, president of the Bia-Echo Foundation. Photo: Gonzalo Marroquin/Getty Images

There are few more fascinating figures in our zeitgeist than Sam Bankman-Fried, the 30-year-old crypto billionaire and FTX founder whose personal ambitions range from politics to media to, of course, the frontiers of digital finance. Over the past several weeks, Bankman-Fried has aggressively expanded his influence over the embattled crypto industry, saving rival firms from insolvency on financial terms that could double or triple his fortune, if ever the crypto market ever bounces back. A Bloomberg television chyron on Tuesday afternoon captured the vibes: “BANKMAN-FRIED RIDES TO THE RESCUE.”

On the political front, however, S.B.F. keeps racking up blaring defeats. First, there was the record $12 million that he spent trying to elect Carrick Flynn, a political neophyte congressional candidate who got creamed in Oregon. Then, in a less-noticed but equally seismic political whiff, S.B.F. and his team spent another $12 million or so that, for now, just disappeared into the electoral ether. On Friday, it became clear that a California ballot initiative supported by S.B.F.’s lobbying group, Guarding Against Pandemics, wouldn’t qualify for the 2022 ballot, despite over $21 million in campaign money behind the effort, including about $9 million from Open Phil, the philanthropy of Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife, Cari Tuna.

The county-by-county blame-game of how an initiative with so much money behind it could fail to qualify hasn’t resolved itself, but I can tell you that politicos were buzzing in my inbox last week about what an embarrassing screw-up this was for S.B.F. (who, to be fair, isn’t involved in day-to-day campaign tactics like this, and has also been busy bailing out the crypto industry). The ballot measure, which would establish a new state bureaucracy to try and prevent future pandemics, will still qualify for the 2024 ballot—but an election two years from now, when the politics of pandemics will be different, certainly was not anyone’s objective when the campaign began late last year. In a statement on Tuesday, the group even floated the idea of pulling the measure altogether, saying that the extra time might yield legislative breakthroughs, “potentially obviating the need to go to the ballot.”