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Oregon Secretary of State looking into donation made from disgraced cryptocurrency company to state Democrats

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, center, is escorted out of Magistrate Court into a Corrections van, following a hearing in Nassau, Bahamas, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022.
Rebecca Blackwell
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FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, center, is escorted out of Magistrate Court into a Corrections van, following a hearing in Nassau, Bahamas, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022.

Federal prosecutors aren’t the only ones digging into Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced founder of the cryptocurrency exchange company, FTX.

Oregon’s Secretary of State is also investigating whether there was any wrongdoing surrounding a $500,000 contribution from the company to the state Democratic party.

Secretary of State Shemia Fagan asked the Elections Division to take a closer look at the donation after The Oregonian/OregonLive reported the contribution was not actually from Prime Trust, which is how Democratic Party officials reported it on their campaign finance filings. Instead, Prime Trust was merely a pass-through and the donation really came from Nishad Singh, a former FTX director of engineering.

“We play the initial fact-finding role. If we find something, we hand it over to the Department of Justice,” said Ben Morris, with the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.

It’s a felony to make a campaign contribution under a false name. The Elections Division is looking into three likely options, according to Morris: whether Singh misled members of the Democratic Party when the donation was made, whether someone within the Oregon Democratic Party posted the contribution fraudulently or whether it was an honest mistake.

The Secretary of State’s office has been investigating for about a month, and investigations often span up to three months, Morris said, adding that this case is a priority for the office.

The Democratic Party of Oregon declined to comment, and party officials have not said whether they plan to return the $500,000 contribution.

U.S. regulators filed civil securities fraud charges against Bankman-Fried, according to reporting by The New York Times last week. Bankman-Fried has been charged with misleading investors and was recently arrested at his home in the Bahamas.

Bankman-Fried and his company spent tens of millions on political campaigns. Prosecutors have said that money came from Alameda Research, a hedge fund Bankman-Fried created. He’s accused of using that money in several different ways, including donating to political candidates and campaigns and violating several campaign finance laws, according to national reporting.

During the May primary, Bankman-Fried was especially generous to political newcomer Carrick Flynn who ran in the Democratic primary for Oregon’s new 6th Congressional District. Bankman-Fried spent millions on Flynn, turning him from a largely unknown figure into a player in the race, although he ultimately lost.

Bankman-Fried’s donations were not sent to Flynn directly, but instead to a political action committee, Protecting Our Future, that helped Flynn’s campaign by paying for advertisements.

Flynn said in an email he believes Bankman-Fried supported his campaign because he liked the work Flynn had done on pandemic prevention. Flynn noted he never had any contact with Bankman-Fried. When asked if he had been contacted by investigators, Flynn did not respond.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Lauren Dake is a political reporter and producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting. Before OPB, Lauren spent nearly a decade working as a print reporter. She’s covered politics and rural issues in Oregon and Washington.