California’s Most Radical Prosecutor Bankrolled by Scandal-Plagued Tech Billionaire

Controversial tech billionaire funds progressive DA's recall battle

San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin (D.) / Getty Images
March 7, 2022

The biggest individual backer of San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin's (D.) recall fight is a tech billionaire who was charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission with illegally selling $1.3 billion in cryptocurrency.

Christian Larsen, the chairman of Ripple Labs, has given $100,000 to the Friends of Chesa Boudin Opposing the Recall, according to campaign disclosures. The Friends committee opposes a June 7 ballot initiative to remove Boudin from office.

Elected in 2019, Boudin was hailed as a champion of the progressive criminal justice reform movement, which sought fewer incarcerations, an end to racial bias in the justice system, and more oversight of police. The movement has come under fire in recent years as crime has surged across the country. Boudin became a target of a recall campaign early last year after a career criminal hit and killed two women with a stolen car. Boudin's critics blamed him for the incident, saying the prosecutor refused to file charges against the driver following repeated arrests in the months before the incident.

To ward off the recall, Boudin has taken contributions from labor unions, the progressive Real Justice PAC, and Larsen. Larsen has said he considers Boudin a friend and is "super impressed" with him.

Boudin has accepted contributions from the crypto billionaire even while complaining that monied interests are funding the recall effort. In a Twitter diatribe last week, he linked to a website called "Stop the Republican Funded Recall" that publishes dossiers on several of the recall effort's biggest donors.

The website, which is funded by Friends of Chesa Boudin Opposing the Recall, bills itself as a grassroots effort and claims to shun cash from wealthy donors. "We don't have billionaire benefactors lining up to write blank checks to support our campaign. Ours is a grassroots movement and we need your help," the site reads.

That statement is contradicted by a disclosure listing Larsen as giving $100,000 to the Friends of Chesa Boudin Opposing the Recall. Larsen is on the Forbes list of richest Americans and was once estimated to be worth more than $50 billion.

While the recall effort is partially backed by Republicans, Democrats also support the initiative. A former homicide investigator in Boudin's office, Brooke Jenkins, who identifies as a progressive, is also supporting the recall, saying Boudin "lacks a desire to actually and effectively prosecute crime."

Larsen built most of his fortune at Ripple Labs, a cryptocurrency exchange he founded. In a Dec. 2020 civil suit, the SEC charged Larsen and Ripple's CEO with failing to register a $1.3 billion securities offering for cryptocurrency created by his company. Larsen personally gained $600 million from the deal, which the SEC called "unlawful." Regulators said that by failing to register the securities offering, Larsen had an unfair advantage over retail investors. Larsen has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged criminally. Ripple Labs did not respond to a request for comment.

Larsen has bristled at regulations of the cryptocurrency market. He said in October 2020 that he was considering moving his company overseas because of regulations of cryptocurrencies in the United States.

Larsen and Boudin have found common cause in a controversial initiative to install surveillance cameras across San Francisco. Larsen has funded more than 1,000 surveillance cameras that he hopes will curtail crime in the city. Privacy advocates have criticized Boudin for supporting the initiative. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocacy organization, has said the program would "chill free speech and political participation."

Boudin is no stranger to controversy. He served as a translator for Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez and once praised the Marxist leader's efforts to abolish term limits. Boudin hailed the maneuver for allowing Chavez to implement "twenty-first-century socialism." Boudin's parents were members of the left-wing domestic terrorist group Weather Underground. They were charged with murder in a robbery of a Brinks truck in 1981 that left two police officers and a security guard dead. Boudin has said he pursued a legal career after witnessing the "injustices" his parents faced.