Multiple top ex-employees of collapsed crypto exchange FTX maxed out donations to alleged scammer George Santos (R-NY) during his successful 2022 campaign for Congress, FEC filings have revealed.
Ryan Salame, FTX’s co-CEO, Claire Watanabe, a former FTX senior executive, and Ramnik Arora, the company’s ex-head of product, all donated the maximum possible amount to Santos’ campaign permitted under federal law during the summer of 2022. SFGATE first reported the news.
The donations to Santos don’t appear particularly irregular for Salame, a prolific political donor who shelled out millions to congressional candidates of both major political parties during the 2022 election cycle. But Watanabe and Arora were both far more targeted in their financial support of politicians.
Besides Santos, the two ex-FTX employees only donated to failed House candidates Michelle Bond (Salame’s girlfriend and a vocal crypto proponent), and Carrick Flynn, a so-called effective altruist favored by disgraced FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried.
Bankman-Fried was a leader in the effective altruism movement, which claimed to use rational strategies to maximize the positive impact of philanthropy on as many people as possible, until his arrest last month for eight criminal charges, including fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and campaign finance violations. Among the many allegations Bankman-Fried now faces, authorities believe he used embezzled customer funds to fuel his political ambitions in D.C.
Meanwhile, Watanabe donated to one other candidate in the 2022 cycle—Karoline Leavitt, the failed far-right, anti-regulation Republican House candidate and former Trump White House aide.
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It makes sense why Watanabe and Arora, as senior FTX executives, would donate to particularly pro-crypto, anti-regulation, or effective altruist congressional candidates. But why they would dole out maximum contributions to Santos is less clear.
Santos never made the issues of crypto, effective altruism, or financial regulation central to his congressional campaign. A relatively obscure candidate, the Long Island politician has since come to dominate national attention after a deluge of claims made by him on the campaign trail have since been revealed to be entirely false.
Santos told voters he graduated from Baruch College, where he was a volleyball star, before getting his M.B.A. at NYU; neither university has any record of him ever attending. He says he then worked at Goldman Sachs and CitiGroup; both companies have never heard of him.
On the campaign trail, Santos wove stories of his grandparents’ harrowing escape from Europe during the Holocaust, and his mother’s death in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Santos is not Jewish, and his grandparents were born in Brazil (he later told the New York Post that he never claimed to be Jewish, only “Jew-ish”); his mother was not in the United States on September 11, 2001.
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Santos marketed himself during his congressional campaign as a self-made entrepreneur who now boasts a small fortune. Despite his apparent lack of a Wall Street career, he claimed in financial disclosure forms from his 2022 campaign to have made between $3.5 and $11 million in the last two years. In 2020, Santos did, in fact, work for Florida investment firm Harbor City Capital, which was soon after charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission with running a $17 million Ponzi scheme.
The origin of hundreds of thousands of dollars used by Santos to fuel his campaign is still unknown. At least a portion of those campaign funds, it can now be confirmed, came from the upper echelons of FTX.
Santos has refused to resign from Congress, despite repeated calls to do so from local Republican organizations. In Washington, where he constitutes a crucial component of Republicans’ razor-thin four seat House majority, Republican House leaders have avoided making any calls for his resignation.