Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema faces campaign cash questions, complaints | Phoenix New Times
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Money pit: Kyrsten Sinema faces campaign cash questions, complaints

Questions about the Arizona senator's donations, fundraising and spending keep coming.
Since Arizona’s senatorial chameleon, Kyrsten Sinema, switched parties to become an Independent, she’s seen a huge drop in donations from Democratic voters.
Since Arizona’s senatorial chameleon, Kyrsten Sinema, switched parties to become an Independent, she’s seen a huge drop in donations from Democratic voters. Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons
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While Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona’s senatorial chameleon, decides if she's running for re-election, her campaign gravy train is raising questions.

After she voted with Republicans on June 1 to kill President Joe Biden’s student debt forgiveness plan, the Arizona senator received at least $27,000 from political action committees related to loan providers, banks, debt collectors and for-profit education in the months after her vote, Phoenix New Times found.

Here are some donations she received after voting against the debt relief plan, according to Federal Election Commission filings:
  • $5,000 from NelNet Inc PAC on Sept. 1. NelNet holds the second-highest amount of Federal Family Education Loan Program money, according to the U.S. Department of Education. FFELP loans are federally backed loans given by private lenders. The program ended in 2010 when the federal government started lending directly to students.
  • $5,000 from Sallie Mae’s PAC on June 30. Sallie Mae is a private lender offering student loans. It is in the top 20 largest FFELP loan holders, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
  • $5,000 from Nursing Education Equity and Diversity on Sept. 30. There is little information on this organization online, but it is based in Phoenix and run by Matthew Calhoun, the board chair of the for-profit Arizona College of Nursing. The PAC did not respond to questions about its connection to the college or its mission.
  • $2,500 from PRA Group PAC on Sept. 26. Portfolio Recovery Associates is a debt collector. It buys debt that banks and other financial institutions have given up on collecting.
  • $2,500 from Career Education PAC on Sept. 26. Career Education Colleges and Universities is a Washington, D.C.-based trade association that represents for-profit colleges.
  • $2,000 from State Street Bank and Trust Co. PAC on June 30. Forbes listed the company as a top bank stock to buy with student loan payments resuming.
  • $2,500 from Independent Community Bankers of America PAC on June 30.
  • $2,500 from Security Finance Corp. of Spartanburg's PAC on Sept. 21.
And after all that, on Nov. 15 Sinema voted against a bill intended to stop the Biden administration’s new student debt forgiveness plan, which was announced after the Supreme Court stopped the previous one.

Sinema’s office did not respond to a request for comment on her decision to support SAVE, a new loan repayment plan from the Biden administration, and not the previous debt forgiveness plan. She was one of two senators to switch sides for the vote.
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With less than a year until the election, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema still hasn’t announced whether she's running for re-election.
Elias Weiss

Sinema’s grassroots donation troubles

Since Sinema switched parties to become an Independent, she’s seen a huge drop in donations from Democratic voters. They are largely donating to the Democratic candidate, Rep. Ruben Gallego. Sinema hasn’t made up the difference with Republicans and Independents.

Still, Sinema has continued to receive donations through ActBlue, the Democratic party’s online fundraising platform, even though she isn’t a Democrat anymore.

A group of 20 progressive organizations and 14 former and current lawmakers sent a letter to ActBlue on Nov. 13, calling for the platform to remove Sinema.

“As grassroots organizations and candidates or elected officials who are long-time donors and collaborators to ActBlue, we hope that your organization will stand on the right side of history and remove Sen. Sinema,” the letter said. “There must be accountability for her continued obstruction and decision to turn her back on the Arizona voters, organizers, donors, allies and volunteers who knocked on doors in 100+ degree heat and made calls to get her elected in 2018.”

But while small-dollar donations have dried up, corporate donors haven’t soured on Sinema.

In 2023, she has been a top recipient of donations from the student loan, airline and credit union industries, according to OpenSecrets, a nonprofit that tracks campaign finances. Donations from private equity firms and hedge funds totaled at least $526,000 after Sinema made a backroom deal to keep an industry tax loophole alive in 2022.

How Sinema uses her campaign funds is also under fire. A May complaint with the FEC alleged that Sinema spent $180,000 of her campaign funds on luxury hotels, posh resorts, Michelin-star restaurants, international travel and winery visits. Her office also did not respond to questions about the complaint.

With less than a year until the election, Sinema still hasn’t announced whether she is officially running for a second term.
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