Was Sean McElwee one of Sam Bankman-Fried's straw donor co-conspirators?
Yesterday's unsealed indictment, campaign finance records, and other clues paint an alarming picture.
When the criminal indictment against Sam Bankman-Friedman was unsealed yesterday, the press understandably focused on the long list of crimes the former billionaire may have committed. But as I read through the charges, what caught my eye was something else:
From at least in or about 2020…SAMUEL BANKMAN-FRIED, a/k/a “SBF,” the defendant, and others known and unknown, knowingly did combine, conspire, confederate, and agree together and with each other to defraud the United States…[and] to commit offenses against the United States by engaging in violations of federal law involving the making, receiving, and reporting of a contribution, donation, or expenditure…
The indictment goes on to spell out what sounds very much like a standard classic straw donor scheme — the kind that conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza went to jail for years ago. Federal law places strict limits on how much individual people can donate to a given candidate, and trying to get around that by passing on your money to someone else so that they’ll donate it is illegal, too.
The indictment doesn’t name SBF’s co-conspirators, and since we are talking about crimes and dark money here, it may be difficult to find that out unless the government decides to prosecute them, too. I of course am in no position to prove anything. Nevertheless, ever since SBF became mired in scandal, one name has been on my mind: Data for Progress owner Sean McElwee. Here’s why:
As early as May, when news of McElwee’s association with SBF went public in an NBC News article, I immediately noted the incongruity of a supposedly progressive activist associating with a donor to right-wing Democrats. This would be a recurring theme with McElwee, potentially dating back as far as his bizarre association with SBF favorite Kristin Gillibrand in 2020 (though I suspect that was before he really became involved with SBF).
On June 29, McElwee, SBF, and liberal wonk David Shor hosted a $1000+ fundraiser for another right-wing Democrat, Ritchie Torres.
Between February and October of this year, FEC records indicate that McElwee donated $47,800 to candidates and PACs who also received donations from SBF.
The similarity of numbers (2) and (4) in particular seem…really suspicious! It seems like this, and not just political gambling, may be the better explanation for Data for Progress cutting ties with McElwee a few weeks ago. I am again in no position to say whether or not this is all just an extremely striking coincidence, but as groups like Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Washington press for an investigation, we may very well find out.
Carl Beijer is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Figures just pulled from the FEC. Will add this here just to show my work.