These Senate Dems Pledged to Return SBF’s Political Donations. Records Show They Still Haven’t.

Senators Maggie Hassan (L.) and Debbie Stabenow (R.)
April 18, 2023

The two senators whom disgraced crypto mogul Sam Bankman-Fried donated the most to both pledged to return the contributions, but newly filed campaign finance disclosures show the Democratic senators fell far short of their promises.

Take Michigan senator Debbie Stabenow. The four-term Democrat said in December she would donate the $26,600 that Bankman-Fried gave her to charity. But campaign filings do not list any such payments, nor do they show refunds to Bankman-Fried, or payments to the government relief fund for victims of Bankman-Fried’s alleged fraud.

Then there’s Sen. Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.), who said in January she would return contributions from Bankman-Fried. Hassan’s campaign last month gave $5,800 of the funds from Bankman-Fried to a victim fund set up by the U.S. Marshals Service. But Hassan appears to have held onto the $20,800 that Bankman-Fried gave the Maggie Hassan Victory Fund. The fund helps raise money for Hassan’s campaign and her political action committee, Granite Values PAC.

The revelation comes as lawmakers face increased pressure to rid themselves of donations from Bankman-Fried, who faces more than a dozen federal charges for defrauding investors of his crypto exchange, FTX, and violating campaign finance laws.

According to prosecutors, Bankman-Fried doled out more than $40 million to political candidates and committees in order to "improve his personal standing" in Washington, D.C., and "curry favor" with candidates who could pass legislation favorable to FTX. Nearly all of Bankman-Fried’s contributions were to Democrats.

The strategy worked to some degree. Bankman-Fried, who contributed $5 million in 2020 to a super PAC that supported President Joe Biden, met with top White House officials in meetings last year, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

And Stabenow, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, drafted Bankman-Fried-backed legislation that would put the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in charge of regulating the crypto industry, instead of the much larger Securities and Exchange Commission.

Stabenow, who announced in January that she would not seek reelection in 2024, is no stranger to controversial campaign donors. Her campaign took $10,000 from Sen. Bob Menendez’s super PAC, months before the New Jersey senator stood trial for corruption.

Lawmakers have embraced a variety of strategies to handle the ill-gotten crypto gains. Soon after FTX’s collapse in November, several lawmakers said they would forward campaign contributions to charity. Some refunded donations back to Bankman-Fried, while others said they would wait for direction from federal prosecutors on how to handle the donations.

In February, federal prosecutors asked campaigns to turn over the donations to the government to go into a victim relief fund.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), another top recipient of Bankman-Fried cash, donated his $5,800 in campaign contributions to charity. A spokesman for Gillibrand says she "no longer has" a $10,800 contribution that Bankman-Fried gave the Gillibrand Victory Fund.

Stabenow and Hassan did not respond to requests for comment submitted to their offices.