Balint to Give Away Campaign Donation From Disgraced Crypto Executive | Politics | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Balint to Give Away Campaign Donation From Disgraced Crypto Executive


Published November 15, 2022 at 2:21 p.m.

U.S. Rep.-elect Becca Balint on election night - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • U.S. Rep.-elect Becca Balint on election night
Becca Balint, a Democrat who won election to Vermont's lone U.S. House seat last week, said on Tuesday that she will give to charity the $2,900 that disgraced crypto exec Sam Bankman-Fried donated to her campaign.

Bankman-Fried resigned as CEO of cryptocurrency exchange FTX on Friday, the same day the Bahamas-based company he founded filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, costing investors billions. It capped a chaotic week for FTX, which faced an $8 billion shortfall after customers withdrew money, prompting federal criminal and civil investigations.

Bankman-Fried, once among the world's richest people, has seen his personal billions evaporate. Some have likened the company's implosion to the Enron scandal of the early 2000s, the Great Recession's collapse of Lehman Brothers and Bernie Madoff's Ponzi swindle.

Keeping the donation "just doesn't feel right," Balint told Seven Days on Tuesday from Washington, D.C., where she was attending orientation for new members of Congress. She plans to give $2,900 to the Burlington-based Committee on Temporary Shelter.

"You've got so many people, so many consumers, who lost their money," she said. "We want to put this money to good use in Vermont ... We want to turn it back around and make sure that people in Vermont are getting some relief from this mess — as much as we can."
Bankman-Fried, just 30 years old, had dazzled investors and Washington, D.C., insiders, whom he lavished with big-dollar campaign donations. He spent nearly $40 million this midterm cycle, much of it on Democrats.

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) also got a $2,900 donation from Bankman-Fried for his campaign to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). In response to a query from Seven Days, Welch, who won the Senate seat last week, said on Tuesday that he will give his donation to the Warmth Support Program, which is run by the nonprofit Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.
Sen.-elect Peter Welch - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Sen.-elect Peter Welch
Bankman-Fried and his brother, Gabe, also created two pandemic-preparedness groups, Guarding Against Pandemics and Protect Our Future, that they used to support candidates. The pandemic groups endorsed Balint and Welch, and Guarding Against Pandemics gave each of their campaigns $1,000.

Both brothers donated $2,900 to Balint in June, as she was locked in a tight Democratic primary race with Lt. Gov. Molly Gray. That's the maximum individual amount someone could give.

Balint met with Gabe about the endorsement but said she doesn't know Sam Bankman-Fried and is unsure why he donated to her campaign.

"I've never met him," she said. "The team has never engaged on anything related to cryptocurrency."

But cryptocurrency executives seem to have a keen interest in her. In July, Nishad Singh, head of engineering at FTX, funneled $1.1 million to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which used much of the money on ads and mailings that supported Balint, who is gay. The Balint campaign had no control over the independent expenditures, which by law cannot be made in coordination with a candidate.
Singh's donation to the Victory Fund wasn't inspired by gender or sexual orientation, according to statements he's made.

“I’ve been really excited about Balint because she’s a strong proponent of pandemic prevention,” Singh told Forbes in August. “Victory PAC wanted to run an independent expenditure to support Balint, I wanted to empower them to do that. My contribution here was personal and independent from my role at FTX.”

Balint reiterated that she does not know Singh and that she had no control over the political action committee's spending on her behalf. But she acknowledged that the donation, and the recent news about Singh and FTX, "gives me a terrible pit in my stomach." Singh has been described as a close confidant of Sam Bankman-Fried.

She vowed to fight for campaign finance reform in Congress.

"I don't ever want a candidate to have to watch what I had to watch, which was somebody spending on my behalf, and I had no control over the message, no control over what was being said, how it was being said," Balint said. "It feels terrible. You feel like you're losing control of your campaign. And it's not healthy for democracy."

Asked if she feels duped in light of more recent reporting that has painted the Bankman-Frieds' pandemic work as something of a front, Balint said she's "still trying to understand a lot of what happened and the relationship between these players."

One thing Balint said she supports is stricter regulation for the crypto industry, which has had a roller-coaster ride this year. FTX's collapse and the subsequent ripple effect is still hitting the cryptocurrency market. There's a strong possibility that Congress will hold hearings on the disaster next year.

"From the beginning of campaign, I have supported having the [U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission] involved," she said. "I want really strict guardrails ... I see this as a consumer protections initiative. And I think that this is basically the Wild West right now, in a currency that most investors in it don't even understand."