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Kyrsten Sinema appears to use campaign funds for personal travel

Kyrsten Sinema
Kyrsten Sinema Photo: Campaign website

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) is passionate about athletics, competing in marathons and triathlons around the country, and reportedly making her staff prioritize her training regimen. Now, a new report suggests she may have scheduled campaign fundraisers around some of those trips in order to justify using campaign funds to pay for her personal expenses.

According to The Daily Beast, the bisexual former Democrat raised over $16,000 from a handful of Massachusetts-based donors in April 2022 — the same month that she competed in the Boston Marathon. The week of the race, her personal political action committee, Getting Stuff Done PAC, also reportedly spent $1,500 on “meeting meals” and “event supplies” at Boston-area businesses, suggesting she held some sort of campaign fundraiser while she was in town for the marathon.

Her campaign paid $8,470 in lodging expenses at an unspecified Ritz-Carlton Hotel that same month. A photo Sinema posted to Twitter after finishing the marathon appears to have been taken at a Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

The Daily Beast reports that the Boston trip appears to be one of at least six occasions since 2019 on which Sinema has participated in a race while fundraising in the area where the competition took place, using campaign funds to cover her expenses. The outlet found that at least $18,000 worth of expenses covered by Sinema’s campaign and PAC could be tied to trips on which she competed in a marathon or triathlon.

Campaign finance experts say she seems to be adhering to the letter of Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules around campaign spending, but that her actions are questionable.

According to Brendan Fischer, deputy executive director of the watchdog group Documented, it’s generally acceptable for politicians to engage in personal activities on a fundraising trip. But, he explained, “this appears to be the inverse — tacking fundraisers on to personal trips to justify the use of campaign funds to cover the costs.”

“The FEC generally isn’t going to scrutinize this kind of spending,” Fischer said. “But at the same time, I doubt any FEC commissioners would declare that a candidate may travel anywhere they want using donor funds, as long as they ask another donor for more money while there.”

“In a world where officeholders are really scrupulous about not only following rules to the letter but to the spirit, she wouldn’t be using campaign funds to pay for these things,” said Saurav Ghosh, an attorney with the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center.

Sinema’s travel and lodging expenses between 2019-2022, which far outstripped those of Democrat colleagues from Montana and Nevada, also raise red flags.

“Any time you see someone spend four, five, six times in a category from one of their comparables, it definitely raises a question of whether that’s a legitimate use of campaign funds — and certainly, even if it is legitimate, whether it is appropriate,” said Ghosh. “That’s generally indicative of somebody who has figured out the system, knows where the cracks are, and is using this one to have the campaign finance a lot of things.”

“It’s almost certainly not unlawful,” Ghosh said of Sinema’s use of campaign funds. “At the same time, her potential donors and her constituents really have a right to see how she is choosing to spend her money. I think it’s a legitimate question: should you be having an event that’s clearly happening where it’s happening because of the race, and getting the campaign to foot the bill for travel and lodging?”

Sinema, meanwhile, has not announced whether she will run for reelection next year. If she does, she’s likely to have a tough campaign ahead of her. An April poll found that only 27 percent of voters in Arizona view her favorably and want her to run again. Half of voters in the state view her unfavorably and 54 percent said she shouldn’t run.

When asked who they would vote for in a three-way race between Republican Kari Lake, likely Democratic nominee Rep. Ruben Gallego, and Sinema running as an independent, only 14 percent of those polled said they would vote for Sinema, while 35 percent said they would vote for Lake and 42 percent for Gallego.

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