Crypto-backed political committees poured $4 million into four Illinois congressional contests with success in three Democratic primaries and one loss in a GOP primary.
A few high-profile races were the latest test of massive political spending by leaders in the cryptocurrency industry boosting candidates on both sides of the aisle, as two GOP incumbents faced off in the 15th Congressional District and 17 Democratic candidates vied for the 1st Congressional District nomination.
The biggest spenders were political committees founded and funded by two CEOs at FTX, the Bahamas-based cryptocurrency exchange platform. OpenSecrets has previously reported on major contributions from crypto leaders, mainly FTX executives, as Washington weighs regulations on the industry.
OpenSecrets data shows two committees broke their own outside spending records during the Illinois primaries. Protect Our Future PAC, formed by FTX founder and CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, backed more candidates in Illinois than in any other state as of June 28. American Dream Federal Action, the conservative Carey committee founded by FTX co-CEO Ryan Salame, spent more money in Illinois’ 15th District than it has in any other primary so far this cycle.
All three Democratic candidates backed by crypto political committees – Jonathan Jackson in the 1st District, Jesús Garcia in the 4th Congressional District and Nikki Budzinski in the 13th Congressional District – won their primaries. But crypto-backed Rep. Rodney Davis (R–Ill.) lost the GOP primary to Rep. Mary Miller (R–Ill.), who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump and the conservative Club for Growth.
Protect Our Future PAC backs winning candidates
Protect Our Future PAC poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into all three races in Illinois. While Protect Our Future PAC made headlines for massive spending boosting Carrick Flynn, who lost the Democratic primary in Oregon’s 6th Congressional District, every other U.S. House candidate the super PAC has supported so far this cycle went on to win their Democratic primary.
Last month, Bankman-Fried announced his plan to spend “north of $100 million” with a “soft ceiling” of $1 billion during the 2024 election cycle. Bankman-Fried has already contributed $23 million to his Carey committee, which poured $963,000 into direct mail, TV ads and other independent expenditures boosting three Democratic candidates competing in the Illinois primary.
Protect Our Future PAC spent $500,000 supporting Jackson, son of Rev. Jesse Jackson and brother of former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D–Ill.), in the 1st District; $200,000 supporting Garcia in the 4th District; and $263,000 supporting Budzinski.
Another super PAC, Opportunity for Tomorrow, spent $20,000 on digital ads boosting Budzinski. The super PAC shares a mailing address and treasurer with Protect Our Future PAC, and Bankman-Fried contributed all $300,000 Opportunity for Tomorrow has raised so far.
1st Congressional District candidates decry crypto interests, dark money
Protect Our Future PAC and another crypto-backed super PAC, Web3Forward, spent close to $1 million combined on media supporting Jackson. A pro-crypto Carey committee, Dao for America, with a mysterious corporate donor spent another $154,000 boosting Jackson.
In Illinois’ 1st Congressional District, which covers the south side of Chicago and surrounding suburbs, some candidates competing to replace retiring Rep. Bobby Rush (D–Ill.), who has held the seat since 1992, pushed back on the crypto money flowing into the race.
“By definition, an independent expenditure is just that, independent. We did not seek it and we cannot control it,” Jackson’s campaign told ABC 7 Chicago last Tuesday.
Web3 Forward spent over $490,000 on media supporting Jackson’s primary bid. Web3 Forward, which registered with the FEC on Feb. 7, received a $2.5 million injection from GMI PAC, a pro-crypto PAC that has attracted big donations from industry leaders like Bankman-Fried and CMS Holdings co-founder Daniel Matuszewski.
According to Web3 Forward’s website, it backs candidates that make it possible for “blockchain innovators” to develop networks “under a clearer regulatory and legal framework.” Dao for America’s website describes its mission to mobilize voters behind candidates who “understand the role digital assets can play in leveling the playing field and creating a more equitable society.” Digital assets include cryptocurrency and the blockchain.
Dao for America, which registered with the FEC on April 5, received the vast majority of its $295,000 from a company called Shrike Holdings. Shrike Holdings contributed $100,000 on May 5, $100,000 on May 6 and $75,000 on May 10. No other federal political committees have reported payments from the corporation as of June 27.
Dao for America did not respond to OpenSecrets’ request for comment on the contributions.
First loss for conservative crypto super PAC in incumbent battle
Up until Tuesday’s primary, every conservative candidate backed by American Dream Federal Action won their GOP primary. Davis is the only candidate backed by the pro-crypto super PAC to lose so far this cycle, and he was also the super PAC’s biggest bet at this point in the midterms.
Outside groups poured more than $12.2 million into the race. American Dream Federal Action Network spent $2.4 million of the $2.6 million outside dollars behind Davis, while mainstay conservative super PACs spent millions supporting Miller and attacking Davis. Club for Growth Action spent $1.7 million for Miller and $943,000 against Davis, for example, while Conservative Outsider PAC spent $2.5 million just attacking Davis.
Miller ousted Davis in Illinois’ 15th District GOP primary in the latest battle of the incumbents. Davis and Miller, the district’s current representative, faced off after Illinois lost a seat in the U.S. House following the latest census. The congresswoman overcame a social media firestorm that followed a campaign rally on Saturday with Trump where she called the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade “a historic victory for white life.” Her campaign clarified that Miller meant to say “Right to Life.”
In April 2022, Salame launched American Dream Federal Action, which has spent $8.8 million so far this cycle. The super PAC supports “forward-looking Republican candidates who want to protect America’s long-term economic and national security,” including cryptocurrency.
The crypto CEO originally contributed $3 million to American Dream Federal Action around the time the super PAC launched, and June monthly filings show he contributed an additional $8 million in May.
The pro-crypto political committees funded by the two FTX executives have not yet backed candidates in the same race.