Kyrsten Sinema Is Corporate Lobbies’ Million-Dollar Woman

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Kyrsten Sinema Is Corporate Lobbies’ Million-Dollar Woman

Of the set of lawmakers working to
slow down or completely stop progress on the Biden administration’s $3.5
trillion reconciliation bill, almost no one is more famous—or infamous—than Senator Kyrsten Sinema. The Arizona Democrat has styled herself as a moderate and
underscored that position by vowing
to oppose the reconciliation bill at its current $3.5 trillion price tag.That’s won her one-on-one meetings
with President Biden. It’s won her an endless stream of press coverage. And
it’s won her something else: support from major business entities working to
gut parts of the reconciliation package or the entire bill overall.Accountable.US, the liberal
nonprofit group, has compiled a
report of donations to Sinema from organizations like the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce and PhRMA, groups actively working to trip up the reconciliation
package, a key pillar of Biden’s domestic policy agenda.The report tallies that Sinema has
received “at least $923,065 from the industry groups leading this charge
against the Build Back Better budget or from the individual corporations these
groups represent.” The report centers on five interest groups: the U.S. Chamber
of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the RATE Coalition, the National
Association of Manufacturers, and PhRMA.“Super-rich
corporations have given Senator Sinema nearly a million reasons to vote against
making them pay their fair share in taxes,” Kyle Herrig, president of
Accountable.US, said in a statement. “Make
no mistake, if she sides with her wealthy donors and kills popular investments
to jump-start the economy, everyday families—including across Arizona—will pay the
price.”The donations went through three
committees for Sinema: Kyrsten Sinema for Congress, Sinema for Arizona (her
Senate campaign), and Getting Stuff Done Pac (her leadership PAC). Some of the
donations in the report also go as far back as 2012, long before Biden was
elected president and began pushing his Build Back Better Agenda. It’s also
before Sinema completed her transformation from uberliberal Arizona Green
Party activist to the John McCain–worshipping outspoken
moderate who’s more than happy to buck her party’s agenda.The report’s very existence is an
indicator of how big a threat backers of a robust reconciliation package consider
Sinema to be. To them she is more pivotal and potentially more dangerous than
any Republican.  Sinema’s current objections to the
package, according to The Washington Post, center on whittling down
“some of the aid more narrowly based on income and economic status” in
proposals, like new funding for community colleges and pre-kindergarten. It’s a
move liberals have become familiar with, to their chagrin. It’s also something
that gives Sinema tremendous leverage in a Senate split 50–50, where Democrats
need every member of their caucus to vote in lockstep to pass any legislation
at all.The frustrating thing for her
colleagues is that many of Sinema’s specific objections to the reconciliation
package are a mystery to the public—and an ongoing source of political intrigue
in Washington policy circles. Her position on corporate tax increases, for
example—a vital part of the package, as they would constitute the main revenue
source for the bill—is unclear. But in May, Senate Minority Leader Mitch
McConnell reassured
his Republican colleagues that Sinema is one of the key reasons they should
hope there would not be any significant tax increases in the reconciliation
package. “I don’t think she has one,” a
Democratic lobbyist who often deals with the Senate said, when asked about what
her position might be on taxes that could hit these interest groups. “I would
say she’s in the mid-20s, maybe as high as 28 [percent]. Depends on other
issues.”The groups highlighted by Accountable.US are certainly trying to persuade Sinema not to back the reconciliation package. In total, the
Chamber of Commerce and its leadership boards have given her over $448,000. The
organization’s objections include the package’s high price tag and possible high tax
increases.  The Business Roundtable, the report
says, gave the Arizona senator $187,000. The Roundtable’s president and CEO,
Joshua Bolten, said
his group’s major concern is “potential tax increases on U.S. job creators that
would counteract the benefits of infrastructure investment.” The group has also
publicly praised
Sinema’s approach to the infrastructure bill the Biden administration has
coupled to the reconciliation package.The RATE Coalition’s members gave
her $210,000. The coalition, which aims to keep corporate taxes down, represents
FedEX, Lockheed Martin, Capitol One, and Disney. Former Senator Blanche Lincoln, the coalition’s chief adviser, said, “Any increase in the rate would
position our country even further behind global competitors like China.”The anti-tax pattern extends to all
the groups. The National Association of Manufacturers similarly gave Sinema $32,500. Aric Newhouse, the senior vice president for policy for the group, has
also warned that the potential tax provisions in the package would hit
“manufacturing families” hard, and he warned that “jobs will be lost.”And PhRMA has poured $15 million
into lobbying against the reconciliation package in 2021. It gave Sinema $6,000,
and its major members gave $23,000. Its objections are on Democrats’ drug-pricing proposals, which would be a potential source of revenue for the
package. Sinema herself has privately indicated
to the White House she opposes the drug-pricing reforms in the package. She has
signaled opposition to a part of the package that lets Medicare negotiate
pricing for prescription drugs.Sinema’s office did not respond to
a request for comment.Those donations and that support is
still only a fraction of the money Sinema has raised in recent years. According
to Open
Secrets, her campaign committee alone
raised $27 million since 2017, with top contributors Goldman Sachs having given
$31,200 and Amgen Inc. having given $20,750. Her campaign committee and leadership PAC combined raised more—$28
million—with its top contributor, Emily’s List, having given $405,783.Still, the donations and the report
itself underscore the battle lines Democrats are forced to pay attention to as
they try and move the reconciliation bill through Congress. No lawmaker,
realistically, expects the budget proposals not to pass through Congress. But
liberal Democrats do worry that the sausage-making
process will dramatically weaken the provisions in there, to a point where
it tries
to do way too much with too little money.The Accountable.US report is also
yet another sign of the ongoing tensions between Sinema and the rest of her
party—so much so that a watchdog nonprofit wants to take aim at her and the
more traditional corporate entities organizations like that cover.“Opinions are subjective, so if she
says her opinion aligns with theirs, the public has no way of gauging whether or
not a politician’s opinions are the same as they would have been if they had not gotten financial support from interested industry players,” said Walter Shaub,
a former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics and a senior ethics
fellow at the Project on Government Oversight. “If we had a better campaign
finance system that didn’t allow corporations to purchase members of Congress,
then we’d be able to trust what these members say are their opinions.”There’s no way to prove definitively how much influence these donations have had on Sinema, if any at all. But
the donations, along with the opinion shared by Sinema and these
organizations that the reconciliation bill is too big, are a clear indicator of
where their interests align. And it’s worth keeping an eye on what she has to
say about corporate tax rates.
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