Big Money on Big Names: FTX's Celebrity Spending Spree
In a recent opinion piece, Bloomberg columnist Matt Levine delves into the extravagant spending habits of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, shedding light on the allure of celebrity endorsements and influential connections within the crypto industry.
According to Levine, FTX is perhaps the best example among companies in the crypto sector that have recognized the potential of associating with high-profile individuals to enhance their reputation and standing in the market.
Specifically, the opinion piece went into detail on some of the political affiliations of disgraced CEO Sam Bankman-Fried and FTX.
Donations to Democrats
As has been widely reported, much of the funds that were donated by Bankman-Fried and FTX was given to left-leaning political groups and individuals associated with the US Democratic Party.
According to some people, including Twitter owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Bankman-Fried could have donated as much as $1 billion to Democrats.
FTX’s new management has for a long time attempted to get back money that was donated, but Democratic politicians had as of February this year only given back around 3% of the donations that are publicly known.
As noted in Levine’s opinion piece, FTX as recently as last week filed a new lawsuit against a former aide of Hilary Clinton and the former aide's investment firm, K5 Global, to retrieve $700 million in funds.
The lawsuit, which Levine called “generally a fun read,” names K5 Global, Mount Olympus Capital, and SGN Albany Capital, as well as affiliated entities and K5 Global co-owners Michael Kives and Bryan Baum, as defendants.
It claims that Bankman-Fried was a "profligate patron" who sent millions to Kives, K5 Global, and Baum after he attended a social event hosted by Kives in 2022.
Influencer marketing more important than building products
However, Levine noted that despite FTX's significant investments in celebrity connections, the company encountered financial troubles that proved to be massive.
FTX's balance sheet was heavily laden with speculative investments and tokens of uncertain value, such as Serum, MAPS and FTT, yielding questionable returns.
Despite this, the spending that FTX did can be explained based on the crypto industry’s own logic, Levine reasoned, saying:
“If you were a crypto firm in 2022, funneling gobs of money to politicians and former regulators and celebrities was a really good investment in making your firm popular and respectable […].”
He added that ultimately, so-called influencer marketing turned out to be even more important to some players in the crypto industry than actually building products.
“Influencer marketing and political lobbying were valuable and viable; making useful products that appealed to consumers in an immediate and intuitive way was not,” the columnist wrote.