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EXCLUSIVE: OpenAI CEO Sam Altman only donated to two senators in 2023—both are shaping AI legislation on the Hill

$3,300 went to both Sens. Maria Cantwell and Kyrsten Sinema.


Katherine Huggins


Posted on Feb 1, 2024

In 2023, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman didn’t make many donations to individual lawmakers but spread out his political contributions across Democratic parties and committees in 39 states and Washington, D.C.

However, the two individual members of Congress to whom Altman did donate stuck out: both are vocal about the importance of regulating artificial intelligence.

In 2023, Altman gave $3,300 to both Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.).

Cantwell—the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee—has not officially introduced any artificial intelligence legislation this session but said in early 2024 that she would make bipartisan AI regulation a top priority

Cantwell helped create the National AI Advisory Committee and has since called for legislation regulating deep fake technology and increasing AI education.

“We want to make sure that any misuse of AI—that we are stopping that—and whatever we can do to make sure that we are protecting Americans’ privacy,” she said in September.

Altman’s October donation to Sinema was notable due to her departure from the Democratic party in late 2022. 

The donation also came in spite of the fact that Sinema herself has not yet indicated if she will run for reelection and has seen her fundraising plummet since leaving the Democratic party.

However, similarly to Cantwell, Sinema has been focused in the AI sphere and is a member of the Senate Artificial Intelligence Caucus. 

Sinema has called for increased transparency to differentiate between AI and man-made content, and said the technology should be developed in an “ethical, transparent, and responsible manner.”

The Daily Dot has reached out to both Cantwell and Sinema’s offices for comment.

Aside from the contribution to Sinema, the only other times Altman gave to a non-Democratic candidate were in 2018, when he gave $2,700 to both Alyse Galvin’s independent congressional bid in Alaska—though Galvin ran with the endorsement of the state’s Democratic party—and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), who as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee is a frequent target to woo regardless of personal politics.

Just two donations to members of Congress mark a shift from past election cycles where Altman primarily targeted his efforts toward individual candidates.

Instead, this past year, the bulk of his contributions—$200,000—went toward supporting President Joe Biden’s reelection, while another $41,000 was spread out across 39 states’ Democratic parties and committees. He gave an additional $41,000 to the Democratic National Committee directly as well.

All told this cycle, he donated just a hair under $300,000.

In 2020, Altman, a longtime Democratic donor, focused his efforts primarily on Senate candidates instead of the presidential race.

He did contribute more than $100,000 to Biden’s campaign then, but not until less than a month before the election and after he had given to the presidential campaigns of now-Vice President Kamala Harris, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Andrew Yang.

The vast majority of Altman’s donations in 2023 came before his short-lived ouster from OpenAI in November.

His giving in 2023 is up more than 30% from 2022, when his federal-level contributions totaled about $224,000, but down since 2019, when Altman first emerged as a major force among political donors.

But no year has come close to 2020, when Altman gave more than $700,000—mainly to the Senate Majority PAC, the liberal-aligned AB PAC, and Biden’s Victory Fund.

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*First Published: Feb 1, 2024, 2:27 pm CST