The S.B.F. Campaign Finance Whodunnit, Part 2

Sam Bankman-Fried
S.B.F. world has been rife with speculation about who else was implicated in what federal prosectors alleged, in vague terms, was some sort of “straw-donor violation.” Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Theodore Schleifer
December 22, 2022

Last week, in the days after Sam Bankman-Fried was arrested in the Bahamas, I noted a blind item in my column about his indictment, which included a mysterious, unexpected campaign-finance violation. “While it would be irresponsible at this point to name specific names,” I wrote, “there is certainly some chatter about various S.B.F.-connected, not-that-rich individuals who cut an unusually large number of political checks in recent years.”

At the time, S.B.F. world was rife with speculation about who else was implicated in what federal prosecutors alleged, in frustratingly vague terms, was some sort of “straw-donor violation,” or an intentionally misrepresented contribution. There have been many theories making their way to my inbox and Signal chats over the last week: Was it another S.B.F.-allied FTX mega-donor, such as co-C.E.O. Ryan Salame or former director of engineering Nishad Singh, making political donations with money absconded from Alameda? Were prosecutors gearing up to make a too-clever-by-half argument that all of Sam’s money really belonged to his customers? Or, perhaps, was the Southern District of New York insinuating that S.B.F. or one of his entities had facilitated some sort of reimbursement scheme? 

Obviously, I didn’t want to float any names without evidence, but now that the allegations have been made their way into the press (and not just by random leftist Twitter accounts), I can share more about what has been buzzed about by politicos for weeks. One of the people who has been connected to the S.B.F. drama, of course, is Sean McElwee, the always provocative Democratic operative with a huge media profile and the ability to draw Chuck Schumer to his birthday party. McElwee was effectively fired last month as C.E.O. of his polling firm, Data for Progress, after a staff insurrection. One of the factors in McElwee’s exit, as I reported, was his penchant for placing bets on candidates in races where his firm also provided polling. Another was his proximity to S.B.F., whom he advised and from whom he also solicited funding.