Dirty Money: Beto Clings to $100K from Sam Bankman-Fried After Pledge To Return Tainted Crypto Cash

July 18, 2023

Robert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke won praise last year after he pledged to return a massive campaign contribution from Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced cryptocurrency kingpin charged with defrauding customers out of billions of dollars. But campaign finance records show the failed political candidate has not lived up to that promise nearly eight months later.

O'Rourke has kept $100,000 that Bankman-Fried donated to O'Rourke's failed gubernatorial campaign, according to campaign finance disclosures released this week. A spokesman for O'Rourke said in November that the campaign had returned an "unsolicited" $1 million donation from Bankman-Fried just before the Nov. 8 election. O'Rourke received positive media attention for announcing the refund, with one political scientist saying it "looks good" for O'Rourke to return Bankman-Fried's donation.

The Washington Free Beacon reported in January that O'Rourke's campaign refunded just $900,000 to Bankman-Fried and that it was placing the additional $100,000 into a fund for "victims of FTX's collapse." Campaign filings released this week do not show any refunds or payments related to the remaining $100,000.

O'Rourke clings to the cash even amid a series of damning developments in Bankman-Fried's case. Bankman-Fried was indicted in December on fraud and campaign finance charges, then slapped with additional charges in February. Prosecutors accused him of making tens of millions of dollars in political donations to "improve his personal standing" in Washington, D.C., and "curry favor" with candidates who could pass legislation favorable to his crypto trading company FTX. Former FTX executive Nishad Singh pleaded guilty in February to fraud and campaign finance charges. He contributed $100,000 to the O'Rourke campaign.

In February, the Justice Department issued letters to campaigns and political committees demanding that they forward donations from Bankman-Fried to the U.S. Marshals Service. Many recipients of Bankman-Fried's ill-gotten gains have complied. Rep. Rubén Gallego (D., Ariz.), for example, in March "disgorged" a $2,900 donation from Bankman-Fried by cutting a check to the U.S. Marshals Service, his campaign disclosures show.

O'Rourke, whose campaign has $166,758 in the bank, has not said whether he plans to run for political office in the future. Should he decide to run for office, he will likely be allowed to fund it with contributions from his gubernatorial campaign war chest. But the former congressman has faced a series of political losses in recent years. He lost in 2022 against Texas Republican governor Greg Abbott and in 2018 against Republican senator Ted Cruz. He dropped out of the 2020 Democratic field two months before the first primary.

Bankman-Fried contributed more than $40 million to Democratic candidates and political action committees, including $5 million to a political action committee that supported Joe Biden's 2020 campaign. He gave $300,000 to Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees the cryptocurrency industry.

The donations opened doors for Bankman-Fried in Washington. He visited the White House at least four times in 2022, meeting with Biden's top adviser, Steve Ricchetti, and other aides. He also attended a Philadelphia retreat last year for House Democrats, where he rubbed shoulders with Rep. Maxine Waters (D., Calif.), who at the time was chairwoman of the House Financial Services panel.

O'Rourke could not be reached for comment.