As Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Arizona) spent recent years nearly singlehandedly obstructing crucial proposals like guaranteed paid leave, abortion access and a $15 federal minimum wage, she was also spending Senate funds on private jet flights, a new investigation has found.
According to financial reports viewed by The Daily Beast, Sinema has booked at least 11 private jet flights since 2020, spending about $210,000 of public funding in order to do so — working out to an average of nearly $20,000 per flight, or about 5 percent of her office’s budget. This is highly unusual, as members of Congress rarely take private flights due to their offices’ limited budgets and the use of taxpayer dollars to fund them; the other senator from Arizona, Mark Kelly (D), has never used his budget for private flights, as the publication pointed out.
Five of these private flights were in 2023 alone — after she loudly declared that she was breaking away from the Democratic caucus and becoming an independent in December, a week after attending a private fundraiser in New York with giants of real estate and private equity.
The flights last year cost $116,000, or more than it costs to pay the salary of all but the most senior staff in her office. One of the trips appeared to have been for a public ceremony with President Joe Biden at the Grand Canyon on August 8, when her office spent $50,250 seemingly in order to fly the senator and four staffers out to the event.
Nearly all of the other flights were chartered for travel within Arizona, the reporting found.
Though there aren’t explicit rules against using Senate funds to take private flights, experts have questioned if the use of the funds suggests that she is ignoring other priorities in running her office — like potentially hearing from constituents — in favor of taking luxurious flights.
“This is one of those things that does raise the question of, is this the best way to manage the budget?” said Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) Communications Director Jordan Libowitz. “Could she be doing more for the state otherwise?”
Some have speculated that her use of public funds for private flights is an indication that she’s not running for reelection and is therefore paying no mind to the appearance of impropriety of the flights. However, her personal political action committee is hosting a donor retreat in March, indicating that she is planning on running.
Previous reporting has found that Sinema makes extensive use of Senate funds for seemingly personal expenses. A complaint filed last year by PAC Change for Arizona 2024 alleged that Sinema has been using campaign money to take lavish trips across Europe and the U.S., including at least 17 marathons.
As she was taking these luxurious flights, Sinema spent the better part of a year vehemently obstructing Democrats’ social safety net bill, known in later iterations as the Build Back Better Act. Among the proposals in the bill were guaranteed paid family and medical leave, free community college tuition, funding for affordable housing, climate provisions and allowing Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs. In a particularly infamous moment in 2021, Sinema gave a cheery thumbs down to indicate her vote against an amendment to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
At the same time, Sinema has been cozying up to private equity, making legislative decisions that appear to be explicit favors to the industry as she has watered down corporate taxes and other financial sector regulations. Real estate giants like Blackstone and private equity leaders have together funneled millions into her campaign coffers.
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