Crypto Exec’s $1.1 Million Paid for Pro-Balint Ads in Vermont House Primary | Politics | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Crypto Exec’s $1.1 Million Paid for Pro-Balint Ads in Vermont House Primary


Published August 23, 2022 at 5:29 p.m.
Updated August 30, 2022 at 7:14 p.m.

Sen. Becca Balint, now the Democratic nominee for U.S. House - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Sen. Becca Balint, now the Democratic nominee for U.S. House
A 26-year-old cryptocurrency executive single-handedly helped a political action committee spend big in support of Vermont state Sen. Becca Balint (D-Windham) during her successful Democratic primary campaign for the state’s sole U.S. House seat.

In July, Nishad Singh, head of engineering for cryptocurrency exchange FTX, funneled $1.1 million to the LGBTQ Victory Fund Federal PAC, which then spent $991,911 on TV, digital and mailed ads that lauded the skills and experience of Balint, who is gay. She went on to defeat Lt. Gov. Molly Gray in the August 9 primary.

The Victory Fund had just $153,000 in the bank as of June 30, according to the organization’s filings with the Federal Election Commission. During the month of July, according to an August 19 filing, the group received just five other donations aside from Singh’s, none larger than $10,000. Singh’s donation, in fact, is the PAC’s largest one-time haul from a single donor in its history.
Singh attended the same San Francisco Bay Area high school as FTX’s billionaire founder, Sam Bankman-Fried, then attended the University of California, Berkeley. Singh lists addresses in Silicon Valley and the Bahamas, where FTX is based. He worked as a software engineer for Facebook before Bankman-Fried recruited him to work first at Alameda Research in 2017, then his fledgling cryptocurrency exchange FTX, Bloomberg News reported in April.

The Victory Fund is what’s known as a “hybrid PAC,” an entity allowed in the years after the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial Citizen's United decision in 2010. The designation permits it to endorse candidates and give them up to $5,000 annually (it gave Balint $4,000 in March). But it also allows them to raise unlimited amounts from donors and spend freely on what are known as “independent expenditures” — ads or mailings that support or oppose candidates. Such spending must be done without coordination with the candidate’s campaign.

Balint is the only candidate on whose behalf the group has made independent expenditures this election cycle. The amount and volume of independent expenditures the group made in support of Balint are unprecedented for it.

Aside from the nearly $1 million spent by the Victory Fund, Balint also benefited from another $595,000 in independent expenditures made by Equality PAC, the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC and the Working Families Party National PAC.

Singh could not be reached for comment. The Victory Fund did not respond to multiple requests to speak with Seven Days.
In an interview on Tuesday, Balint campaign manager Natalie Silver said she had never heard of Singh nor had anyone from the campaign met or otherwise interacted with him. She denounced such spending as “problematic” and noted that the campaign has no control over it, even if they ask for it to stop.

“This system that is legal, that was created by the Citizens United case, is absolutely bad for democracy,” Silver said. “We should not have a system where one person can write a check like that and have that kind of influence in our elections. Becca is very firm on that. And this doesn't change that at all.”

Singh did not give directly to Balint’s campaign, but FTX founder Bankman-Fried donated $2,900 — the maximum allowed in the primary — in June. Bankman-Fried’s brother, Gabe, also gave Balint $2,900.

The brothers are the brains behind two pandemic-preparedness groups, Guarding Against Pandemics and Protect Our Future, both of which endorsed Balint; Guarding Against Pandemics also gave Balint’s campaign $1,000 in June.

In the spring, according to Silver, Balint’s team met with Gabe Bankman-Fried in Washington, D.C., for an endorsement interview and lunch. Silver said Guarding Against Pandemics told them it also planned to interview other candidates in the Vermont House Democratic primary.

“Their sole focus is people who are going to be strong advocates for pandemic prevention, and Becca checked those boxes for them,” Silver said. “She believed in the mission of their organization and felt like it was in line with her values. And so they thought she was the best candidate in the race for that.”
Sam Bankman-Fried has used Protect Our Future, a super PAC, to funnel millions into Democratic primary races across the country. Singh gave the group $1 million while Bankman-Fried contributed $27 million.

Balint’s campaign website has some oddly specific, detailed plans for preventing the next pandemic, a topic she addresses under her “Issues” section, headed "Keeping Vermonters Healthy." It’s listed first before her other health stances on "Medicare for All," "Mental Health," "Big Pharma" and  "The Opioid Epidemic."

In the section, Balint vows to “establish independent oversight of labs conducting dual-use research of concern.

“We must create a system of enforcement when noncompliance with safety and security protocols occurs,” it reads. “The review of this work should be controlled by an independent committee concerned with preventing the next pandemic, rather than by the same groups funding this critical research.”

Such language is nearly identical to what appears on the websites for two Chicago-area candidates who were also endorsed by Sam Bankman-Fried’s Protect Our Future PAC. Jonathan Jackson, the son of Rev. Jesse Jackson, and U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Gonzalez (D-Ill.) received hundreds of thousands of dollars in ad support from the PAC, even though Gonzalez is running unopposed, according to a June report by the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Establishing independent oversight of labs conducting dual-use research of concern,” a bullet-point on Jackson’s website reads. “We must create consequences that are strictly enforced when noncompliance with safety and security protocols occurs … The review of this work should be controlled by an independent committee concerned with preventing the next pandemic, rather than by the same groups funding this critical research.”

On Tuesday, Silver said some policy points related to Balint’s stance on the pandemic had been on the website since December, when Balint launched her campaign. But the page was updated after the endorsement from Guarding Against Pandemics, using some of its language, she acknowledged.

“They said, ‘Hey, here is our policy platform on this stuff. Here are some things we think are important to talk about,’ and we had a conversation with them about it,” Silver said. “And we were like, ‘Yeah, this is stuff we think that we also support. So we updated it and, you know, had some input from them on that.”

Silver noted that the pandemic policy points have nothing to do with the cryptocurrency industry, which Silver said Balint knows relatively little about.

“But it's an area that probably needs more regulation and oversight because I think a lot of working people have lost a lot of money recently investing in that,” Silver said. “And I think that that's certainly something that Becca would want to avoid in the future.”

Silver was more forceful on a different policy point: campaign finance reform.

“If Becca had a piece of legislation in front of her in the House of Representatives that said, ‘Can we globally reform our campaign finance system and make it more fair and transparent and prevent billionaires from being able to write these kinds of checks?’ she would say ‘absolutely,’” Silver said, “and vote yes.”