California Senator's Group Pledged to Return FTX Cash. It Funneled Millions to Pro-Abortion Group Instead

(Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)
October 19, 2023

The liberal group until recently helmed by California senator Laphonza Butler pledged to return millions of dollars from disgraced cryptocurrency kingpin Sam Bankman-Fried. Instead, the organization has funneled nearly $1.6 million to the pro-abortion movement.

Women Vote, the campaign arm of Emily’s List, received $2.25 million from former FTX executive Nishad Singh, who has admitted to making fraudulent political donations on behalf of Bankman-Fried. The group, which Butler led until this month, said earlier this year it is cooperating with federal authorities to return the money. But it has not made any refunds of FTX donations or payments to the Justice Department, a Washington Free Beacon review found.

It’s not that Women Vote lacks the funds to pay Bankman-Fried’s victims. It doled out $1.575 million to Emily’s List this year to back female candidates who support abortion rights. Women Vote, which Emily’s List launched in 1995, has received nearly $2.3 million in contributions this year, and has $423,995 in the bank, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures released this week. The group also gave $50,000 to America Votes Action Fund, which seeks to mobilize liberal voters.

Women Vote’s failure to surrender the FTX cash could raise questions for Butler, who is undecided on whether to run for a full-term next year. It is unclear whether Butler was aware of Singh’s contributions, or the discussions about how to handle his contributions. Butler served as president of Emily’s List from 2021 until California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D.) appointed her to the Senate earlier this month. Her office did not respond to a request for comment.

Federal prosecutors allege that Bankman-Fried used money stolen from FTX to make political contributions to raise his personal profile and that of his cryptocurrency firm. Bankman-Fried, who went on trial in New York on Oct. 3, gave $40 million in his own name to Democratic groups, including $5 million to a political action committee that supported President Joe Biden in 2020. The donations seemingly helped Bankman-Fried secure meetings with Biden White House officials last year. He attended a House Democratic retreat in Philadelphia last year after a series of donations to the caucus’s campaign arm.

While Bankman-Fried made donations to mainstream Democrats in his own name, he tapped other FTX executives to make "straw donor" contributions to Republicans and progressive groups, seemingly in order to maximize his political influence. Singh was picked to make contributions to left-wing political groups. In one instance, a political adviser to Bankman-Fried told Singh that he would have to donate "to a lot of woke shit for transactional purposes," according to court filings in the Bankman-Fried case.

One of those groups was the LGBTQ Victory Fund. Singh contributed $1.1 million to the organization on July 7, 2022, to support House candidate Becca Balint (D., Vt.). Singh said last year he was "really excited" about Balint’s campaign and gave to LGBTQ Victory Fund to "empower" the group to support her campaign.

Emily’s List, too, endorsed Balint shortly after Singh’s donations to Women Vote. Singh gave $1.5 million to Women Vote on July 19, 2022, and $750,000 on Aug. 16, 2022. Emily’s List endorsed Balint on Sept. 1, 2022. Balint, who won her election, has said she cooperated with federal authorities in the FTX probe.

Bankman-Fried and Women Vote were united in their support for Rep. Nikki Budzinski (D., Ill.). Bankman-Fried’s Save Our Future PAC spent more than $260,000 on ads supporting Budzinski, while Women Vote spent more than $250,000 to boost the Democrat.

Emily’s List did not return requests for comment. A spokeswoman for the organization told the Washington Post on the eve of Bankman-Fried’s trial that it was "engaged and cooperating with the multiple authorities seeking to reclaim these contributions."