Founder of FTX crypto exchange Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) is planning to spend “north of $100 million” to support various candidates running in the 2024 election cycle, he said in Jacob Goldstein’s podcast this week. Pressured to quote his upper limit, SBF said $1 billion, although he described that sum as a soft rather than hard ceiling, “because who knows what’s going to happen between now and then.”
“It’s gonna depend on who’s running,” SBF said, admitting that he was likely to donate a lot of money to a candidate opposing Donald Trump, should he choose to run.
Even if SBF shells out the “modest” $100 million, it will put him in the top tier of mega-donors, judging by the standards set in the 2020 cycle. In the run-up to the Biden-Trump face-off, there were exactly two donors who topped $100 million: casino mogul Sheldon Gary Adelson with his wife Miriam, and media tycoon Michael Bloomberg.
If SBF does come close to his soft ceiling of $1 billion, he would become the most generous mega-donor in any single election cycle in US history.
The sum that he intends to allocate appears eye-popping to everyone but SBF. In a 2021 interview with Vox, he said it “shocked” him that his $5 million donation to the 2020 pro-Biden super PAC Future Forward was among the largest. “If I didn’t know anything about this, [I’d believe] that there’d be at least one person giving like $5 billion to $10 billion per [election] cycle,” SBF said at the time.
The founder of FTX is worth $20 billion, according to Forbes, but he reportedly still lives with roommates, drives a Toyota Corolla, and sleeps most nights on a bean bag. To date, he has donated about $200 million to various political candidates and charitable organizations, including the Guarding Against Pandemics advocacy group founded by his brother. He aims to give away 99% of his earnings.
Recently, SBF donated $11 million to support Carrick Flynn, a Democratic candidate in the Oregon congressional primary. Ultimately, Flynn lost to Andrea Salinas, only securing 18.4% of votes.
In the podcast, SBF admitted that if he were to do it again, he would “do it a bit differently.” Still, he didn’t consider his $11 million to have gone to waste, saying that Flynn “had a real shot.”
“You should be donating such that you think you have a pretty substantial chance of losing,” he added, agreeing with Goldstein that candidates who have a big chance of winning do not need help.
Not about crypto
SBF’s decision to support Flynn, like many of his donations, was driven by his adherence to effective altruism. It’s an ethical movement that seeks to allocate funds and effort to long-term initiatives with the biggest possible social impact, such as climate crisis, nuclear threats, and pandemic prevention.
Under the premises of effective altruism, earning a lot of money in order to give it all away to charitable causes is more effective than classic philanthropy. As such, effective altruism encourages its talented supporters to take high-paying finance jobs rather than engaging in hands-on activism, and Sam Bankman-Fried is a living example of that proposal.
Effective altruism is SBF’s long-standing intellectual profile. He was raised by a Stanford professor and scholar whose work frequently touches upon the subject of consequentialism, a related ethical stance. Before founding FTX, SBF worked for the Centre for Effective Altruism. Back in college, he became friends with William MacAskill, a philosopher at the University of Oxford and one of the movement’s founders.
In Jacob Goldstein’s podcast, SBF said that impacting crypto regulation, which he considers important and necessary, is not among his chief priorities when he makes political donations. It appears that crypto trading and FTX itself are but a means to achieving a greater goal.