How a million-dollar donation from Silicon Valley fueled pro-Balint ads in Vermont's primaries
Becca Balint was one of the big winners of Vermont’s primary elections, beating out opponents, including Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, to become the Democratic nominee for the state's only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Vermonters are still learning how the campaigns were funded. Seven Days recently broke a story about a 26-year-old cryptocurrency executive who donated $1.1 million to an organization that then spent big money on ads for Balint.
Below are excepts from a conversation between host Mikaela Lefrak and Sasha Goldstein, deputy news editor at Seven Days. They have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mikaela Lefrak: Tell us more about the cryptocurrency executive who made this donation.
Sasha Goldstein: His name is Nishad Singh, and he's 26 years old. He's head of engineering at a cryptocurrency exchange called FTX. A cryptocurrency exchange is essentially where people buy and trade cryptocurrency, and the people who run the exchange get some of the money from those transactions. These have become big business. The guy who founded it, Sam Bankman-Fried, is a billionaire. Singh, who's an exec at this company, is a millionaire. So these are young people with a lot of money, and they're spending it.
Singh donated more than a million dollars to the LGBTQ Victory Fund federal PAC. What exactly is that PAC?
It's a PAC dedicated to electing LGBTQ candidates. It's known as a hybrid PAC, so it can do regular PAC things like giving donations of up to $5,000, but it can also act like a super PAC and take unlimited donations and spend unlimited amounts of money. When they took that donation from Nishan Singh of $1.1 million, they used most of that money to run ads in favor of Becca Balint.
What have you been able to figure out about the connection between Nishad Singh and the Balint campaign?
I have inquiries out to Nishad Singh and to FTX, and the Balint campaign told me that they had never heard of him. They don't know him. They do known Sam Bankman-Fried's brother, Gabe, who runs a group called Guarding Against Pandemics. Its focus is stopping the next pandemic, and it's spent a lot of money and endorsed candidates.
This group met with the Balint campaign, backed her and donated $1,000. Gabe Bankman-Fried, who runs this group, donated $2,900 himself to the Balint campaign, as did his brother Sam. These two actually went to the same high school as Nishad Singh, and they know him in a professional capacity at FTX.
In your article for Seven Days, you included a quote from Natalie Silver, Balint's campaign manager. She said, "We should not have a system where one person can write a check like [Nishad Singh's] and have that kind of influence in our elections. Becca is very firm on that." What are your thoughts on the Balint campaign's stance on these types of donations?
The Balint campaign says it did not know anything about this independent expenditure spending. That's in the federal rules—you're not allowed to coordinate with a group making independent expenditures. And after the spending started but before we knew who was behind it, Balint did come out and denounce it.
Can you talk a bit about how what's going on in Vermont with PAC spending compares to what's been happening in other states in the U.S.?
We've had the three members of our congressional delegation in place since 2006. Then, a few years later, we had this controversial decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, Citizens United, which essentially opened the floodgates for political spending. It allowed super PACs and unlimited spending—dark money spending, as they call it. Many congressional races around the country have seen this sort of spending in the past decade. But for Vermont, it's a little bit new. This is the first time we've had a primary race for an open seat in so many years.
What threads are you going to be following with this story? Where is it taking you?
Well, that's a good question. There's a lot to uncover about why this race in particular. We want to see if there's more connection to FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried. He's been using tens of millions of dollars to fund other candidates and elections across the country. He's taken a deep interest in Democratic primaries across the country, and the question is why.
Broadcast at noon on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.