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Investment Industry Pours Cash Into Kyrsten Sinema’s Leadership PAC

The Democratic Party defector has defended the “carried interest” tax loophole for private equity and real estate.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema arrives at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center on April 19, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

After preserving a tax benefit for investment managers last year, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) continues to rely on investment industry donors as she faces a Democratic challenger in a possible 2024 re-election campaign.

In the second quarter this year, private equity, hedge fund, and venture capital executives streamed dozens of four-figure donations to Sinema’s campaign, joint fundraising committee, and leadership PAC. Several donors with private equity giant Blackstone topped up their donations to Sinema, with at least six more giving a total of $6,600 each, including A.J. Agarwal, a senior managing director in the firm’s real estate group. Tens of thousands of dollars of Sinema’s second quarter haul came from donors who work at the investment firms Montgomery Capital, First Atlantic LLC, Crescent Capital Group, and TPG Capital.

A handful of large donations from employees of the Boston-based private equity firm Advent International, totaling $23,000, were received by Sinema’s joint fundraising committee within a one week period in April, including from David Mussafer, the company’s chairman and managing partner. Other donations in the second quarter to Sinema came from Amir Goldman of private equity company Susquehanna Growth Equity, John Connaughton of Bain Capital, and James Burr, managing director at the Carlyle Group.

Without having spoken the term “carried interest” on the congressional record as of August 2022, according to the New York Times, Sinema has taken action to defend the so-called “carried interest” tax loophole for private equity and real estate fund managers. In 2021, the Biden administration and congressional Democrats proposed closing the loophole that investment managers use to pay the lower capital gains tax rates on their ordinary income and harnessing the revenue from that change to support social spending programs in the Build Back Better Act. However, the measure was kept out of the bill, out of concerns that Sinema would spike the plan. The following year, Sinema demanded that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer remove a provision to partially close the loophole from the Inflation Reduction Act as a condition of her vote for the bill in the evenly-divided Senate. In the months after that ultimatum, Sinema received at least $526,000 from donors who stood to benefit from the rule staying on the books.

Most of the private equity firms whose employees donated to Sinema last quarter are members of D.C. trade association the American Investment Council (AIC), which fought changes to the carried interest loophole last summer and increased its lobbying spending last year to its highest level since 2009.

Toward the end of last year, Sinema left the Democratic Party and registered as an independent. Her 2024 re-election plans have not been announced, but Arizona media coverage indicates she is preparing to run.

Sinema’s campaign raised nearly $1.7 million in the second quarter, bringing its total cash on hand to nearly $10.8 million. Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Democrat who is running for Senate, outpaced Sinema by raising more than $3.1 million in the second quarter, for a total of $3.8 million cash on hand. Several Republican candidates including 2022 gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake have expressed interest in joining their party’s primary for the state’s Senate seat.

Sinema’s inclination toward wealthy investors as she defended the industry’s tax breaks — and her wave of donations from Republican-leaning billionaires while undermining parts of the Democrats’ legislative agenda — have been central in the upcoming Senate contest in Arizona. Recently, Gallego contrasted the 98% of his first quarter fundraising that came from donors who gave under $100 with the “rich guys on Wall Street” backing Sinema.

Private Flights and Upscale Resorts

Further donations from private equity executives and wealthy investors underwrote Sinema’s luxe fundraising trips this year: one-third of the $725,000 that Sinema’s leadership PAC, Getting Stuff Done (GSD), raised this year came from donors in the investment industry, according to a Sludge review of its semi-annual report with the Federal Election Commission.

Donors with private equity giant Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), the Carlyle Group, Crescent Capital Group, tech investment firm Francisco Partners, and Blackstone contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Sinema’s PAC this year, making up a portion of the more than $226,000 that GSD has received from investment industry donors, according to Sludge’s review. Other donors included the following: Alex Karp, CEO of Palantir Technologies; Julia Koch, the billionaire spouse of the late libertarian megadonor David Koch; Nelson Peltz, the Republican megadonor and hedge fund founder reported to be a major donor to the “dark money” group No Labels; and Texas real estate mogul and Republican bundler Woody Hunt.

Leadership PACs finance travel, lodging, and other fundraising expenses for federal lawmakers, as well as donations to other politicians. According to FEC guidance, such PACs “​​may not solicit, receive, direct, transfer, spend or disburse funds in connection with an election for federal office,” with funding raised meant to support other candidates for office — though in practice, they often bankroll lavish travel for their sponsors.

Since the start of this year, a total of $346,000 in donations to GSD came from PACs including those of the AIC, the American Financial Services Association, investment company the Capital Group, Delta, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, the No Labels Problem Solvers, and Dallas-based corporate tax firm Ryan LLC.

Sinema’s PAC spent almost $900,000 so far in 2023, the vast majority of which went to two payees. The first was D.C. firm Fulkerson Kennedy & Company, which was paid almost $330,000 by GSD for fundraising consulting and “fundraising event expenses reimbursement.” The firm has also received $169,000 from Sinema’s campaign this year. The second was travel and security service TOA Group, formed by the sister of Sinema’s friend, former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, with almost $268,000 paid to it by GSD. The security company has also received ​​$233,000 from Sinema’s campaign this year.

Sinema’s leadership PAC has made only two contributions to candidates so far this cycle: it donated $10,000 to the re-election campaign of Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in Montana, and $5,000 to the campaign of Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich in New Mexico. The under 2% of the PAC’s spending in the first half of 2023 that went to contributions is a sharp drop from the first six months of the previous election cycle, when GSD spent some $45,000 on donations, nearly a quarter of its spending during that period — though, before Sen. Sinema was in a re-election cycle.

In trips ranging from Silicon Valley to London, GSD spent $200,000 on event rentals and catering, hotels, airfare, wine, car services, and other transportation, according to Sludge’s review of its disbursements. In the first two months of the year, GSD spent more than $2,500 at the five-star Le Roch Hotel & Spa Paris and nearly $2,000 on car transport with a Paris-based private service.

Getting Stuff Done PAC spent $37,000 at the upscale Enchantment Resort in Sedona, $43,000 at the luxury hotel chain Montage North America for an event deposit, and nearly $9,000 with Marriott International. It also spent nearly $16,000 in early February with the private flight company Flying Zebra, based at Westchester County Airport in New York. The D.C. restaurant Centrolina was paid several thousand dollars by GSD for catering, and numerous wine companies received a total of several thousand dollars from the PAC, including Three Sticks Wines, the Sonoma winery where Sinema did an internship in 2020 as a senator. Last October, Sinema held a fundraiser at the winery, which is owned by TPG Capital co-founder and partner emeritus Bill Price.

Airline Donations

Employees of Delta and American Airlines each donated tens of thousands of dollars to Sinema in April and May. In mid-June, Sinema and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) proposed a controversial amendment that would loosen the pilot training requirements for commercial aircraft. Changing the training requirements is supported by industry group the Regional Airline Association and opposed by pilot and flight attendant unions such as the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. The late-breaking amendment on pilot training rules, as well as proposed changes to flight slots at D.C.’s National Airport, have held up the FAA reauthorization bill in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation ahead of a September 30 deadline.

The PAC of major trade association Airlines for America donated $2,500 to Sinema’s campaign on June 8, with at least three of its lobbyists donating in the second quarter as well, including Christine Burgeson, the group’s SVP of Global Government Affairs.