How Sam Bankman-Fried won Washington before he lost everything

Alex Seitz-Wald

The week before his cryptocurrency empire spectacularly collapsed, one of Sam Bankman-Fried’s political groups hosted back-to-back happy hours for movers and shakers in both parties at the $3 million townhouse it had recently purchased steps from the Capitol. 

The congressional chiefs of staff, top operatives and lobbyists who attended didn’t come for the open bar and finger foods — mostly vegan, in honor of their benefactor’s preferred diet. They came to cement their connections to a 30-year-old billionaire who had, practically overnight, become one of the country’s biggest Democratic political donors and was building a Washington footprint designed to influence public policy for decades to come.

“SBF,” as he is widely known,” visited the White House, attended a congressional retreat, and held countless meetings with lawmakers and top regulators. He got chummy with Bill Clinton after paying the former president to speak at a conference. He spent $12 million getting a referendum on the ballot in California. And he earned praise during Senate testimony from Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., for a “much more glorious afro than I once had.”