Last year, a situation that has become all too common in the post-Citizens United era played out. A super PAC supporting Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a group with an anodyne name and no public profile, effectively denying the public’s ability to know who was sinking significant sums into benefiting a sitting senator.
But a recent filing in the trial of Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced former head of cryptocurrency exchange FTX who was convicted in early November on seven counts of fraud and conspiracy, provides a clue indicating that FTX may be one of the sources of the dark money funds that boosted Lee after flowing through groups affiliated with one of indicted Rep. George Santos’s (R-NY) controversial campaign treasurers.
Last month, prosecutors in the Bankman-Fried trial introduced as evidence a spreadsheet detailing gifts and contributions by Bankman-Fried and his colleagues that benefited politicians across the political spectrum. While many of the contributions had previously been disclosed in campaign finance records, the spreadsheet provided the first large-scale confirmation of Bankman-Fried’s claim that he was also a major dark money donor, adding support to a FEC complaint CREW filed against him last year.
According to CNBC, the trial evidence demonstrated how Bankman-Fried and his allies poured tens of millions into nonprofit groups during the 2022 election cycle that can spend money influencing elections without disclosing the source of their funds. The FTX crew made large contributions to prominent dark money groups like One Nation and Majority Forward, which are respectively aligned with the Republican and Democratic leadership in the Senate, as well as lesser known entities with names like the American Leadership Fund.
In the spreadsheet, contributions attributed to FTX are labeled as being associated with particular members of Congress. The American Leadership Fund, for instance, is tagged as being connected to Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) and reportedly received a $50,000 contribution from FTX on August 19, 2022. According to the trial evidence, FTX made contributions to nonprofits associated with four other members of Congress on the same day, including $100,000 to a section 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization—a type of tax-exempt organization commonly associated with dark money because they can spend money influencing elections without disclosing their donors—called Liberty Champions that supported a member with the last name Lee.
Except there are no public records available that indicate there is actually a nonprofit that goes by the name Liberty Champions. The IRS’s searchable databases for tax-exempt organizations do not contain an entry for the group, and a search of business records via the website OpenCorporates also comes up empty.
There is, however, a federally-registered super PAC called Liberty Champions that spent more than $1.6 million on independent expenditures supporting Sen. Lee in his 2022 Senate reelection effort. The super PAC did not report receiving any contributions from FTX, Bankman-Fried, or any of the individuals whose contributions are covered in the trial evidence. But it did report receiving $100,000 from an apparent nonprofit group just a few days after FTX is said to have sent the same amount to Liberty Champions.
The timing and amount of the late August contribution to Liberty Champions, combined with the details in the Bankman-Fried trial evidence, raise questions about whether FTX money was funneled through a nonprofit to the super PAC. While more information is necessary to determine whether such a contribution actually occurred, the evidence also raises the possibility of a violation of a federal campaign finance law that prohibits contributions in the name of another, which in at least one case the FEC has applied to a nonprofit used as a conduit for a contribution to a super PAC.
In a FEC filing, Liberty Champions reported that it received $100,000 on August 24, 2022 from an entity called Great American Coalition with an address in southwest Washington, DC. As with Liberty Champions, there are no currently available public records indicating that a company or nonprofit called Great American Coalition exists, but there is a little-known nonprofit with a nearly identical name—Great America Coalition—that uses the same address that Liberty Champions listed for Great American Coalition in its FEC reports.
Great America Coalition also has significant ties to the Liberty Champions super PAC. The treasurer of Liberty Champions is Thomas Datwyler, a Republican compliance professional who is currently experiencing notoriety due to his complicated working relationship with Santos. Datwyler, who also serves as the treasurer of Lee’s campaign committee, is the principal officer and treasurer of Great America Coalition, according to the nonprofit’s Form 990 tax returns.
As the Daily Beast recently reported, despite Datwyler’s initial claim through his lawyer that he was not taking Santos on as a client even as his name appeared on campaign filings, the prolific campaign treasurer appears to have actually handled Santos’s tangled accounting while putting forward an associate named Andrew Olson to sign on as the campaign’s treasurer on paper. The fact that Olson had never previously appeared as a federal treasurer is one reason CREW filed a complaint with the FEC requesting an investigation into whether he actually existed. The Daily Beast, however, subsequently identified three state-level political committees affiliated with Datwyler that listed Olson as treasurer, including one in Oklahoma that transferred most of its sole donor’s funds to a dark money group that soon after contributed to a federal super PAC, and another in Minnesota that signed a conciliation agreement with the state campaign finance board over allegations of coordination with the campaign of a candidate that also employed Datwyler.
In total, during the 2022 election, Liberty Champions reported receiving $310,000 from Great American Coalition, which may actually be Great America Coalition, a nonprofit affiliated with the recipient super PAC’s treasurer, who is also the treasurer of the campaign of the candidate who benefited from the super PAC’s spending. The secretly funded group was the pro-Lee super PAC’s second largest contributor, behind only Republican megadonor Timothy Mellon.
Since groups like Great America Coalition are not required to disclose their donors, the true sources of hundreds of thousands spent to benefit a sitting senator’s re-election campaign is not publicly known. But evidence introduced in a criminal trial raises the possibility that nearly a third of the funds secretly originated with FTX, the company at the center of a massive financial fraud scandal.