Lightfoot supporter questions indicted crypto billionaire’s donation to Garcia

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) questioned Samuel Bankman-Fried’s motives for spending $151,420 on direct mail pieces for Chuy Garcia’s congressional reelection.

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The FTX Arena logo is seen where the Miami Heat basketball team plays on Nov. 12, 2022, in Miami. The former CEO of failed crypto firm FTX Sam Bankman-Fried has been arrested in the Bahamas at the request of the U.S. government, the U.S. attorney’s office in New York said Monday, Dec. 12.

Sam Bankman-Fried, former CEO of failed crypto firm FTX, was arrested in the Bahamas at the request of the U.S. government Monday.

Marta Lavandier/AP file photo

A campaign surrogate for Mayor Lori Lightfoot and one of her 10 challengers tried Tuesday to tie apparent front-runner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia to indicted cryptocurrency billionaire Samuel Bankman-Fried.

One day after the wunderkind co-founder of FTX was arrested in the Bahamas to face charges of “orchestrating a scheme to defraud equity investors,” Lightfoot supporter and state Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) questioned Bankman-Fried’s motives for spending $151,420 on direct mail pieces that introduced Garcia to voters of his newly remapped congressional district.

The contribution raised eyebrows for two big reasons. First, Garcia was running unopposed in the Democratic primary in a safe district where his little-known Republican opponent was neither raising nor spending money. And second, Garcia is a member of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, which regulates portions of the digital assets industry that includes cryptocurrency.

A statement released by the Lightfoot campaign quoted Cassidy as saying that the federal charges against Bankman-Fried “raise serious questions about his bankrolling of Chuy Garcia’s campaign to the tune of nearly $200,000.

“What were Bankman-Fried’s motives for spending so much money on Rep. Garcia’s reelection and what did Garcia promise in return, particularly when he was running unopposed at the time?” Cassidy was quoted as saying.

“Voters deserve to know the facts when making important decisions about who they can trust. Unfortunately, it seems that Chuy Garcia will bring back the old way of doing Chicago-style politics—and we can’t afford that in City Hall,” Cassidy was quoted as saying.

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet disclosed the Bankman-Fried contributions to the so-called Protect Our Future independent expenditure PAC in late June. At the time, Garcia told Sweet that Bankman-Fried had phoned him about a week and a half before to discuss one of his issues, pandemic preparedness.

On Tuesday, Cassidy argued that the “direct conversation” raises troubling questions for Garcia, the apparent front-runner in a recent public opinion poll bankrolled by Operating Engineers Local 150.

“What was said in that conversation that gave Mr. Bankman-Fried the impression that Garcia was a worthwhile investment for him?” Cassidy was quoted as saying.

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Samuel Bankman-Fried, founder and CEO of FTX, testifies during a Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry hearing about “Examining Digital Assets: Risks, Regulation, and Innovation,” on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC., on Feb. 9.

Saul Loeb/Gett Images

Garcia’s campaign manager Gisel Aceves branded Cassidy’s broadside — and a similar attack from mayoral challenger Kam Buckner — “misleading and desperate attacks” from “floundering campaigns.”

“Congressman Garcia is and always has been a skeptic of cryptocurrencies and continues to advocate for stronger financial regulations on an industry he considers ripe for fraud and a significant threat to market stability,” Aceves was quoted as saying in a statement.

“By definition, the Congressman had no involvement in any independent expenditure campaign. And he was one of the first members of Congress to donate a single, $2,900 contribution from Bankman-Fried to charity.”

She added, “Congressman Garcia is ready to work with Chicagoans to build a brighter future. It’s time for a mayor who will bring us together—instead of driving us apart.”

Lightfoot campaign spokesperson Christina Freundlich was asked why the mayor chose to have a campaign surrogate attack Garcia instead of launching the offensive herself.

“It’s just a decision we decided to make. I don’t really have an explanation for you. This is why we have endorsers and supporters to help amplify our campaign message,” Freundlich said.

“I’m not saying the mayor will or will not bring it up herself. But we decided to use a campaign surrogate today. With the charges that were filed [against Bankman-Fried], there’s gonna be more attention to it. And Kelly lays out our reasoning why questions are raised about it pretty clearly.”

Lightfoot owes her 2019 election to the corruption scandal still swirling around now-indicted and soon-to-be-retired Ald. Edward Burke (14th).

On Tuesday, Freundlich said it’s “too soon to tell” whether Lightfoot can similarly ride the Bankman-Fried scandal to reelection.

“With the history of Chicago politics and questions raised on where campaign donations come from, who he has aligned himself with and where he’s gotten his money from calls into question what type of City Hall he’s gonna be running,” she said.

Buckner questioned how a “self-proclaimed reformer’” like Garcia could “accept special interest support from a crypto billionaire whose industry’s future rests on members of Congress?”

“Garcia is revealing himself as no different than a self-dealing, machine politician who isn’t suited to transparently run our city,” Buckner said in a statement.

Bankman-Fried was arrested in the Bahamas on Monday one day before he was scheduled to testify before that U.S. House Committee that includes Garcia. He faces charges ranging from wire, securities and commodities fraud on lenders and customers to conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the United States and violate campaign finance laws.


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