As his campaign for Chicago mayor faces more criticism, U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García continued to distance himself Friday from disgraced cryptocurrency entrepreneur Sam Bankman-Fried, saying he never spoke with the man despite receiving nearly $200,000 in campaign mailers from the former FTX CEO’s political action committee.
Garcia has said that he only spoke with the entrepreneur’s brother, Gabe Bankman-Fried, and reiterated that to reporters after a City Club of Chicago speech Friday.
But federal elections records show that on June 10, the same day his congressional campaign received $2,900 from Sam Bankman-Fried, García’s congressional campaign committee also received a $1,000 donation from the Guarding Against Pandemics PAC — a political action committee affiliated with the advocacy organization of the same name that was founded by Gabe Bankman-Fried to promote future pandemic preparedness.
Despite facing no primary opponent, García also earned the group’s endorsement and is listed as one of the group’s “federal champions” on its website.
A spokesman for García’s mayoral campaign declined to comment on the Guarding Against Pandemics PAC’s donation Friday evening, and would not say whether García’s congressional campaign has donated an equal amount to charity — like it did with the direct donation from Sam Bankman-Fried.
García told reporters Friday that Gabe Bankman-Fried noted “that I had been very active in advocacy for the most impacted communities during the pandemic. I spoke out. I advocated for resources, including … [to] developing countries. I suppose he took an interest in that.”
A spokesman for García’s mayoral campaign did not provide details on whether the congressman discussed supporting Guarding Against Pandemics’ priorities or the $1,000 donation during that conversation.
In June, the Chicago Sun-Times reported on the support that García’s campaign received from Sam Bankman-Fried’s political action committee, Protect Our Future. Garcia’s campaign would later clarify that the congressman never spoke with the now-federally charged entrepreneur, but did speak with his brother Gabe Bankman-Fried once about pandemic preparedness.
As part of its advocacy, the group, Guarding Against Pandemics, called on Congress to allocate billions of dollars to go toward research to prevent the next pandemic. Guarding Against Pandemics did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.
But Gabe Bankman-Fried told Insider in August that his brother played little role in the day-to-day operations of the organization.
“You can talk to any of the candidates that I’ve endorsed at GAP,” he told Insider. “I have not mentioned cryptocurrency to a single one of them.”
Gabe Bankman-Fried previously worked for Illinois Democratic Rep. Sean Casten, The Washington Post reported, and has since stepped down from Guarding Against Pandemics, as his brother, former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried, faces federal charges of fraud, money laundering and campaign finance violations.
The Bankman-Fried brothers’ parents have also since come under scrutiny for their connections with FTX.
The New York Times reported late last year that federal authorities are also investigating millions in political donations Sam Bankman-Fried made in 2022, and are seeking information from Democrats and Republicans who received them.
García’s mayoral campaign told WBEZ in December that he had not been contacted by federal agents for accepting campaign contributions from Sam Bankman-Fried.
Sam Bankman-Fried’s political action committee, Protect Our Future, reported it spent $199,855 on June 1 on mailers in support of García’s campaign, federal election records show.
While several Illinois candidates have received support from Protect Our Future and Guarding Against Pandemics, the donations have become a point of controversy for García in his campaign to be Chicago’s next mayor.
García is a member of the House’s Financial Services Committee, which regulates parts of the digital assets industry, and several of his opponents have called on him to explain his connections with Sam Bankman-Fried. His ties to the former FTX founder were also attacked in a television ad from Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s campaign.
“Chicagoans deserve to know the extent of García’s relationship with these crooks, and no amount of deflecting from a podium can hide the truth,” a spokeswoman for Lightfoot’s campaign said in a statement Friday night.
Asked at a City Club of Chicago event Friday how he would make a guaranteed basic income pilot program permanent, García took a shot at Lightfoot for welcoming FTX to the city in May when it opened its U.S. headquarters.
“First of all, I would not invite Sam Bankman-Fried to come to Chicago and open up an office and make a contribution to the program and then things fall apart,” García said, “which is what is happening as it relates to that company.”
FTX’s collapse has left a $1 million grant it pledged to a universal basic income program in jeopardy, the Illinois Answers Project reported late last year.
At some point in June, García’s campaign website also added language about pandemic preparedness, similar to language posted on Protect Our Future’s website, in which he called for “independent oversight” of “dual-use research labs” and creating consequences for labs that aren’t compliant with safety protocols.
Tessa Weinberg covers Chicago government and politics for WBEZ. Follow her @tessa_weinberg.