Campaigns

Sam Bankman-Fried has a big fortune and big plans for how to spend it — including an unusual political power-building strategy.

Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, sits for a portrait in his office in Hong Kong on May 26, 2021. | Lam Yik Fei/The New York Times

NASSAU, Bahamas — One of the biggest donors in Democratic politics this year isn’t sure if he really wants to be a Democratic megadonor — at least not on the party’s terms.

But then, part of life as Sam Bankman-Fried is about embracing paradoxes. The 30-year-old, who has amassed an estimated $20 billion fortune over the last four years through cryptocurrency, drives a hybrid Toyota Corolla. A monk-like aesthetic extends from his clothes — he showed up to chat in a wrinkled T-shirt and beat-up New Balance sneakers — to his personal life. He shares a penthouse with about 10 roommates and cooks for himself. He still uses his parents’ Netflix account. When he lobbies in Washington, D.C., he’ll often crash on his brother’s couch.

He was also one of just a handful of donors who spent $10 million-plus backing President Joe Biden in 2020, and in the last year, he’s hired a network of political operatives and spent tens of millions more shaping Democratic House primaries. It was a shocking wave of spending that looked like it could remake the Democratic Party bench in Washington, candidate by candidate. Looking ahead to the 2024 election, he has said he could spend anywhere from $100 million to $1 billion.

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