- FTX Digital Markets co-CEO Ryan Salame appears often on the campaign trail with New York congressional candidate Michelle Bond. He has also given to a super PAC that has boosted her campaign.
- Salame has not broken the law, campaign finance experts say, but the crypto mogul’s donations highlight how crypto’s growing influence in American politics is creating a new gray area for campaigns.
FTX Digital Markets co-CEO Ryan Salame is a familiar face on the Long Island campaign trail with girlfriend Michelle Bond, a New York Republican running for Congress.
He’s also funding a super PAC that has spent more than $100,000 to boost her campaign.
In other words, Salame is straddling the line between super PAC backer and campaign confidant. But he has not violated any Federal Election Commission laws, according to campaign finance experts.
Super PACs can raise unlimited amounts of money in support of candidates but are not allowed to donate directly to candidates or coordinate with campaigns. Salame’s actions are not necessarily out of step with the way that such organizations commonly operate. But they underscore how crypto’s growing influence in American politics is creating a new gray area for campaigns. Bond herself is a crypto policy advocate.
As Washington regulators are poised to crack down amid the recent market crash, crypto lobbying has grown significantly in 2022 and industry players are spending serious cash to sway the midterms.
These donations serve as a window into the mysterious network of crypto-linked PACs, which have spent money in dozens of midterm races — but aren’t exactly forthcoming about who is calling the shots.
Following the money
Salame has spent millions of his own money on political donations in the 2022 election cycle. According to FEC data, he has given $1.5 million to GMI PAC, an organization that Salame launched with other industry leaders. The political action committee does not spend directly to boost political candidates; instead, it donates to other crypto-focused super PACs.
But in this case, at least some of that money appears to have been funneled into Bond’s race. GMI PAC has given $1.1 million to Crypto Innovation PAC since 2021, FEC reports show. In turn, Crypto Innovation PAC has spent $115,000 on direct mail and text message ads to boost Bond’s campaign, according to the group’s campaign finance reports. Salame did not respond to a request for comment.
“Despite the fact that this isn’t illegal, it is definitely the opposite of transparency to have this kind of shell game of money transfers,” said Saurav Ghosh, director of federal reform at Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group in Washington, D.C. “We can’t really say that he personally, you know, supported his girlfriend’s campaign. But clearly his money was involved.”
Salame is one of many GMI PAC donors, and Crypto Innovation PAC supports many candidates. But his involvement with the Bond campaign was significant enough to raise alarm bells inside GMI PAC. It is illegal for political campaigns to coordinate with super PACs.
“GMI PAC consistently acts to preserve its independence and comply with federal campaign finance rules regarding coordination,” GMI PAC said in an email to The Block. “With regard to the election for the NY-1 House seat, the PAC took early steps to firewall off board member and donor Ryan Salame from any and all communications and decisions GMI PAC made related to that race.”
GMI PAC’s statement continued:
“Through written notification to the PAC board regarding this internal separation and the creation of separate internal communications channels, the PAC has acted to preserve its ability to make independent decisions regarding potential contributions or expenditures related to this election. Mr. Salame is not involved in any GMI PAC communications or decisions related to the NY-1 House seat. Furthermore, Mr Salame has no role or involvement with any third party organizations that GMI PAC has funded related to that election.”
GMI PAC would not say who oversees such decision-making. Crypto Innovation PAC, which is supporting Bond’s campaign through text message ads and direct mail to voters, did not respond to a request for comment and declined to share the content of the ads with The Block.
n fact, the general situation in which a group uses a network of super PACs to support candidates is quite common in US politics, said Andrew Mayersohn, committees researcher for OpenSecrets, a nonprofit that tracks political spending.
“There will be not just one super PAC, but a network of super PACs with similar donors or similar staff, or have the same goal in mind. And they shuffle money around between them,” Mayersohn said. “You do have to do a lot of digging to follow all the money when it sloshes around like this between multiple groups.”
Crypto crashes the primary
Bond is running in the GOP primary for a Long Island House seat. The candidate is a “strong supporter of President Trump’s America First mindset and policies,” according to her website.
She faces Republicans Anthony Figliola and Nick LaLota in the 1st Congressional District primary. Bond is the top fundraiser in the GOP primary field, fueled partially by her own wealth. She has given her campaign a combined $745,000 in loans and contributions, according to a recent filing.