U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema answers questions from Danny Seiden, the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, at the business group’s 2022 Update from Capitol Hill event on April 12, 2022. Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
At the same time that Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema was standing in opposition to Democratic efforts to raise taxes on corporations, she was raking in campaign cash from many of the companies lobbying against the tax increases — corporate PACs have given Sinema more than $2.5 million since 2021, more than one out of every three dollars she’s raised.
An Arizona Mirror analysis of campaign finance reports between Jan. 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022 for both Sinema’s personal campaign and her leadership political action committee, Getting Stuff Done, show that her prodigious fundraising is powered by corporate money.
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Her reports over that span shows she accepted just under $2 million for her campaign and $567,000 for her PAC. (Her PAC has drawn media scrutiny for spending thousands of dollars on wine, paying for a personal trip to Europe and a $34,500 payment to rent a resort in Sedona.) These numbers don’t reflect individual contributions from corporate executives or other employees at companies whose PACs gave her money.
In all, her campaign has raised more than $5.8 million in that same time, while her leadership PAC has brought in slightly less than $1.1 million. Her committees have received 36% of their combined money from corporate PACs.
Sinema received checks from businesses like Amazon, Honeywell, Intel and Merck, among many others, that have been actively fighting off Democratic efforts to reverse the 2017 tax cuts on businesses that Republicans passed while they were in power. Those groups are all part of The Business Roundtable, a coalition of prominent corporate leaders that argue increasing taxes is a threat to their future plans.
Sinema’s opposition to undoing those 2017 tax cuts is also a far cry from her campaign in 2018 against Martha McSally, when she attacked her opponent for supporting Donald Trump’s “huge tax breaks for the wealthy and large corporations at the expense of our middle class.”
Accepting millions of dollars from corporate PACs -- mostly from pharmaceutical companies, public utilities, banks and hedge funds -- puts her at odds with Mark Kelly, Arizona’s other senator.
Kelly, a first-term Democrat, has sworn off accepting corporate PAC money and called for them to be banned entirely. His message is summed up in a recent ad his campaign has placed on social media: “I don’t take money from corporate PACs because I know who I’m fighting for.” Kelly also introduced a bill with Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff to ban for-profit corporate PACs altogether.
Sinema’s office refused to answer specific questions for this story, but pushed back on whether she is actually opposed to raising the corporate tax. Her campaign did not respond.
Communications director Hannah Hurley said when Sinema told business leaders at a private Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry event that, “You all know, the entire country knows, that I'm opposed to raising the corporate minimum tax rate,” what she really meant was she is opposed to raising tax rates on corporations — President Joe Biden sought to raise the corporate rate from 21% to 28% — but is still in favor of setting the corporate minimum tax rate to 15%, ensuring that profitable companies aren’t able to dodge paying taxes through loopholes and other measures.
Even so, Sinema has stymied legislation or proposals she says she supports because she has steadfastly refused to end or change the filibuster, which requires the support of 60 senators for any legislation to receive a formal vote. In a Senate that is split 50-50, with Democrats holding the tie-breaking vote in Vice President Kamala Harris, that means any legislation that doesn’t have the backing of at least 10 Republicans cannot advance.
On May 23, activists protested Sinema in Tucson for her stance on the filibuster and questioned whether she was beholden to her “corporate donors” or the “people, democracy and planet.” Hurley did not address whether Sinema prioritizes her corporate donors over her constituents.
Sinema has the benefit of not being up for re-election until 2024, while Kelly is up this year. But Sinema also has so angered Democrats that the party censured her earlier this year and she is likely to face a primary challenger. Many Democrats believe that U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, a progressive who just had the best fundraising quarter in his political career, will run against her.
Sinema has already received scrutiny for some of her notable campaign contributors in the past, including several billionaires who backed Donald Trump’s presidential bids.
She has been a thorn in the side of her party since Democrats won control of both congressional chambers and the presidency, mostly due to her unwillingness to kill the filibuster. And her opposition to key parts of President Joe Biden’s agenda, along with that of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, has prevented much of the administration’s sweeping policy proposals from passing.
But Sinema has been able to claim victory on some issues: She was instrumental in a bipartisan deal on infrastructure spending, though the final plan was scaled back from what Democrats and Biden had initially sought.
Voters should take into account which corporate PACs elected officials are taking money from, and consumers should take into account which elected officials corporations are giving to, because they are making a definitive statement.
– Toni Cani, Democratic political consultant
Democratic political consultant Tony Cani told the Arizona Mirror that, while Sinema’s corporate backing isn’t popular in Democratic politics, it’s unlikely to change how people view her. At the end of the day, Democratic voters have already made up their minds, and those opinions are unlikely to change barring something drastic happening, he said.
“I personally think that the only thing that saves her from a viable primary challenge is if no credible Democrat decides to run against her,” Cani said.
When corporations give money to candidates, they're saying they believe in the same basic principles — in Sinema’s case, that she supports their interests. Cani likened it to anti-LGBTQ corporations contributing to campaigns of politicians or any corporation giving money to an “insurrectionist.”
“Voters should take into account which corporate PACs elected officials are taking money from, and consumers should take into account which elected officials corporations are giving to, because they are making a definitive statement,” he told the Mirror.
Cani also said candidates like Kelly are waving away corporate PAC money because it’s not as transparent as the money coming directly from individuals.
From Sinema’s Getting Stuff Done PAC, at least two scandal-plagued contributions stood out raising questions about why she accepted such money and what either has to do with Arizona’s needs.
In November, she raised $5,000 from Pacific Gas & Electric, a California utility company that just two months earlier was charged with manslaughter for starting a wildfire that killed four people. The company, which is the largest public utility in the country, also pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in 2020 for a similar reason.
Neither Sinema’s office nor her campaign would answer questions about the contribution.
But the other standout contribution came from the multi-level marketing firm Herbalife, which gave Sinema’s PAC $5,000. Herbalife admitted to engaging in criminal activity for a decade and paid a fine of $123 million in 2020 for criminal corruption and fraud. The company also contributed another $2,500 directly to Sinema’s campaign coffers.
Sinema previously faced scrutiny for accepting money from Herbalife and other MLMs because she took their money while those companies were working to kill a Democratic-sponsored labor bill called the PRO Act. Local business groups called on both Sinema and Kelly to oppose the legislation last year, which would wipe out Arizona’s “right-to-work” law that prohibits mandatory union membership.
She faced additional scrutiny last year when she hosted a private fundraiser with business leaders who were strongly opposed to Biden’s Build Back Better proposal. She charged up to $5,800 for the event which lasted 45 minutes on Sept. 27, 2021. Campaign finance records show she raised $82,000 for her campaign and another $47,500 for her PAC between Sept. 27 and Sept. 30 from PACs alone.
It was one of several fundraising events she held that correlated with moving legislation the corporations boosting her campaign coffers were against.
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