Last August, as she was seeking reelection to a sixth term against a well-funded Republican challenger, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray stopped by an intimate political fundraiser at a swanky Washington, D.C., town house. The host of the event benefiting Murray’s campaign was Gabe Bankman-Fried, the younger brother of disgraced FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried.
A few months later, Gabe Bankman-Fried, his brother, and other top executives at FTX discussed a $500,000 “dark” money transfer “to help Murray,” according to encrypted chat messages revealed by prosecutors this week at the federal fraud trial of Sam Bankman-Fried in Manhattan.
Campaign finance experts say there are a range of legal options for wealthy donors to discreetly employ dark money to influence politics and policy. Dark money donors can engage in fundraising conversations with a super PAC that’s supportive of a candidate, rather than a candidate’s direct campaign staff, said Anna Massoglia, editorial and investigations manager at OpenSecrets.
Donations can also be routed to dark money groups that spend on thinly veiled “issue” advertising campaigns, rather than ads that directly urge people to vote for a certain candidate. This money would not be reported as a donation for a candidate to the FEC.
A line campaigns must not cross is a promise of money in exchange for policy change, said Washington State University political science professor Travis Ridout.
Ridout, who reviewed the Signal chats filed in the Bankman-Fried trial at the request of The Seattle Times, said it was difficult to tell what exactly was going on with “Murray folks” and the $500,000.
“One concern that I think would be illegal is a quid pro quo,” Ridout said. “You give this money, presumably a 501(c)(4) gets this money in exchange for you doing something for me. I don’t know if anything like that happened or not.”
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The Seattle Times