They’re Just Going to Beat This Crypto Bro Thing Into the Ground, Aren’t They?

I don’t know what U.S. Rep. Becca Balint did to so mightily offend the journalistic nabobs at VTDigger and Seven Days, but our two most prominent political media outlets seem bound and determined to lash her tightly to disgraced crypto king (and long-lost Fourth Stooge) Sam Bankman-Fried. Hell, they’ve probably started pre-writing her obituary with the headline “Balint, Beneficiary of Fraudulent Crypto Bro Wealth and Vermont’s First Woman in Congress, Dies at [insert age here].”

Digger’s been at this for a while now. Every time there’s a fresh development in the downfall of Bankman-Fried, Digger’s political team cranks out a story that reports said development and fills out the space by recapping all the old stuff about his million-dollar donation to a political action committee that then spent it in support of Balint, and hinting at a deeper relationship between the two.

It’s a nice way to fill the news hole, but c’mon.

Digger’s latest breathless retelling of the same old story refers to Bankman-Fried as “Balint’s $1 Million Benefactor,” which is about the most sinister possible way to characterize the situation. “Benefactor” implies two very untrue things: That the two had some sort of undisclosed relationship, and that he straight-up gave her a big bag of cash.

In truth, Bankman-Fried gave a bunch of money to the Victory Fund, a political action committee that supports LGBTQ+ candidates. The Victory Fund then spent it, almost certainly at SBF’s behest, on a last-minute ad blitz supporting Balint’s bid for Congress.

And no matter how long our political media keep chewing on that dry old bone, they can’t prove that Balint knew about any of this, that she’d made a deal of some kind with SBF, or that the money made any significant difference in Balint’s primary win over then-lieutenant governor Molly Gray. They continue to hint at it whenever they can, but that’s as far as they can get.

Let’s focus on the last of those three insinuations. An associate of Bankman-Fried gave the money to the Victory Fund on July 7, only 33 days before the primary. That’s pretty damn close, and any political operative will tell you that the later the money comes in, the less wisely it’s spent.

With a simple visit to the Federal Elections Commission website, you can find out how and when the money was spent. The first dollar didn’t go out the door until July 15, only three and a half weeks before the primary. Between the 15th and the 21st, it spent $326,000 on TV/digital ad production and placement, and another $250,000 on mailers.

Then, on the 25th and 26th — two weeks before the primary — it spent another $191,000 on TV/digital and $200,000 on mailers. Finally, on July 29 — 11 days before the primary — it paid another $261,000 on TV/digital.

On a campaign calendar, that’s a blink of an eye. And it explains why Democratic voters got absolutely swamped by pro-Balint mailers in the last couple weeks of the campaign. Balint’s campaign had its mailings pre-planned, and then the Victory Fund stomped in with its own. Voters got sick and tired of their mailboxes being clogged up with pro-Balint material. (Myself, I put all those mailers straight into the recycle bin on the way back from my mailbox.)

All that calendar stuff is mere inconvenient detail compared to the fundamental truth about the primary: The race was close initially, but as time went on Balint built a commanding lead. By the time the Victory Fund entered Vermont, the race was over. I wrote about this last August, but I’ll briefly recapitulate.

A poll taken from July 21-25, when the crypto blitz had just begun, showed Balint with a commanding lead. Observers could scarcely credit it at the time, but they turned out to be prisoners of their own expectations.

More telling was the ever-widening gap in fundraising. In the campaign’s early months, Balint and Gray were essentially even. But after the end of March, Balint’s donations skyrocketed while Gray’s fundraising faltered. By the time the Victory Fund money started to roll in, Balint was already in a commanding position financially and politically.

You don’t manufacture a 24 percentage point victory in the span of a couple weeks, no matter how much money you spend. Balint built her lead over a period of months. The crypto million may have widened her margin of victory by a a few points, but Balint won this race decisively on her own merits.

Seven Days obviously felt the need to play catch-up with Digger, because they put not one but two staffers on the story. Reporter Derek Brouwer and editor Sasha Goldstein tag-teamed a piece headlined “Court Filing Reveals How Crypto Moguls Tarnished a Historic Vermont Election.” “Tarnished” is a claim unsupported by the article. The tarnishing is primarily in the minds of our political press, who can’t resist any story that carries the faintest hint of scandal in a state where actual scandal is about as scarce as beachfront property in Mongolia.

They back up that headline by quoting the least objective person possible: Carolyn Dwyer, longtime campaign manager to Patrick Leahy and staunch backer of Molly Gray. You may recall that, a few days before the primary, VTDigger posted an thinly-veiled Gray endorsement by Dwyer that failed to disclose her ties to the Gray campaign. Failed, that is, until I wrote about it, whereupon Digger backfilled her bio.

Which wasn’t enough, turns out. Digger wound up withdrawing the essay entirely with an explanation that seems to have involved legal advice: “In order to comply with restrictions on nonprofit news organizations, VTDigger does not publish opinion pieces advocating for or against political candidates.’

Well, “does not” except that they did.  

Anyway, Dwyer has been a stalwart Democrat for a long time and deserves full credit for all her work, but she kind of went round the twist with Gray and apparently still bears a grudge toward those darn voters who turned their backs on her candidate. Obviously, in her mind, something nefarious must have happened because she told Seven Days that Bankman-Fried and associates “impacted the outcome of a really historically significant race in Vermont.”

Which, as seen above, is at best a gross exaggeration.

Letting Dwyer set the narrative is a nice example of hunting for just the right quote. They found it by resorting to someone who’s deeply conflicted.

The Seven Days piece is long and exhaustively detailed. It adds some new information, but conceals the weakness of its case beneath truckloads of detail. The reader is supposed to be so overwhelmed by the scope of the piece that theyfail to notice that so much of this stuff is (a) old and (b) unproven.

The funny thing is, this is a more extreme example of the kind of coverage that Gray herself complained about in her run for lieutenant governor. In the early stages of the primary campaign, it was revealed that Gray had an extremely spotty voting record. This was at least mentioned if not explored in depth in just about every story written about Gray or the primary.

Gray won her election anyway, just as I’m sure that Balint will thrive no matter how deep and abiding the media’s fascination with Crypto Bro might be. Balint has proven herself an adept politician and policymaker whose performance has only improved as she has moved to bigger and bigger stages. She’s getting a surprising amount of attention for a freshman lawmaker from a tiny state. And she’s well on her way to becoming the single most powerful person in Vermont politics. No amount of overhyped stories about SBF will change that.


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