Just days before the cryptocurrency exchange FTX filed for bankruptcy, the company’s co-CEO Ryan Salame wrote a $500,000 check to the Republican Governors Association, the main campaign arm tasked with electing GOP executives across the country.
The donation was not a radical move on Salame’s part. He was, at the time, an emerging prolific GOP donor who gave more than $23 million to federal candidates and PACs in 2021 and 2022, according to FEC records. But with the fall of FTX and the arrest of Salame’s co-founder Sam Bankman-Fried, a new layer of scrutiny has been placed upon the campaign contributions that emanated from the leaders of the failed crypto empire.
A number of Democratic candidates have announced their intentions to return donations from Bankman-Fried. The RGA, however, appears to have kept Salame’s funds. A spokesperson for the group declined to comment on that specific donation. Unlike Bankman-Fried, Salame was not indicted.
The $500,000 donation from Salame was part of a $28.6 million haul that the association brought in over the last three months of 2022, according to filings with the IRS.
That money — coupled with seven-figure donations from GOP mega-donors — fueled its aggressive push to claim the executive branch in a number of states on Nov. 8. Ultimately, however, Democrats flipped three governorships in their favor. And they did so with an atypical cash advantage.
“Democrats were on total defense in 2022 and their incumbents were mired in tough races due to their out-of-touch records,” an RGA spokesperson said, pointing to the defeat of the incumbent Democratic governor in Nevada.
During the fourth quarter of 2022, the Democratic Governors Association raised about $40.2 million, according to filings with the IRS. Veterans of gubernatorial campaigns said it was the rare instance of the party’s donors shifting their focus to the DGA.
“Major donors are very often focused on national issues and presidential politics rather than state issues,” former DGA executive director Colm O’Comartun said of the party’s donor class, adding that gubernatorial races in swing states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania created a persuasive argument for the Democrats’ major donors. “Starry eyed donors have been used to being with Nancy [Pelosi] on Nantucket but are now warming to Democratic governors.”
It could have been even worse for Republicans if not for donors like Salame. Last year, RGA also received $6 million from The Concord Fund, a group associated with the powerful conservative legal activist Leonard Leo. Its project, known as the Judicial Crisis Network, spent millions to support former President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominees. In 2022, the Concord Fund also gave $2.15 million to the Republican State Leadership Committee, which supports conservative candidates running for state judiciaries and other state-level campaigns.
The influx of cash suggests a growing effort by the group to focus on the states. A spokesperson for the Concord Fund maintained, though, that the group, primarily through its support for the Judicial Crisis Network, has already been involved in state court issues for over a decade.
RGA is free to accept donations of unlimited size, beyond the limits set for federal and many state-level campaigns. Groups like RGA are also free to accept contributions from corporations, unlike federal campaigns.
RGA’s 2022 fundraising haul also included a number of major conservative donor dynasties. The Las Vegas Sands Corporation — whose majority shareholder is Miriam Adelson — gave $3.79 million. The gift is also the latest indication that Adelson has remained a political force since the death of her husband, Sheldon Adelson, in 2021. Another political dynasty also spent big to support the Republican Governors: Suzanne DeVos gave $300,000, as did Richard DeVos Jr., Doug DeVos, and Daniel DeVos.
DGA’s haul also included some of the party’s mega-donors: Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker gave a total of $27 million to the group in 2022, and billionaire Stephen Mandel gave $1,000,000 as well. A portion of the haul came as a transfer from an affiliated committee, Democratic Action.
DGA did not report any gifts from FTX in 2022.