Corporate Tax

Kyrsten Sinema, the corporate donor magnet who turns Joe Biden’s agenda the wrong way up

U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema speaks at a committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo / AP

Twenty years ago, a Green activist running for Phoenix City Council named Kyrsten Sinema compared campaign fund raising to “bribery”.

As a first-term US Senator from Arizona, she no longer has such concerns.

Sinema, once a self-proclaimed “Prada socialist” who was called “too extreme” by the Democratic Party of Arizona, has found new power as a centrist in a 50-50 Senate in which there are no more votes, which US- President Joe Biden is forcing his agenda and other democratic ambitions.

Her overwhelming authority underscores a senator’s ability to take advantage of her party’s close influence on the Chamber and to bend the will of the majority. This skill is also one reason corporate interests eager to influence the now $ 1.85 trillion package of Democratic social and climate initiatives have rushed to provide financial support.

During months of exhaustive negotiations, Sinema has provided limited explanations for the conflicting policies that the Democrats have fought for for years and angered many of their peers.

But their actions have also won their new allies, making Sinema a magnet for campaign contributions from powerful interests, with millions at stake as the legislation goes.

Sinema specifically opposed two parts of Biden’s original proposal that received broad public support: an increase in tax rates for businesses and wealthy individuals, and an expansive plan that would have significantly reduced the cost of prescription drugs for Medicare recipients.

The concessions she helped win align with the interests of many of her donors who Sinema, according to OpenSecrets, a non-partisan group that pursues money in politics.

Sinema’s office declined to make her available for an interview. In a statement, her office said she had consistently supported “growth-promoting economic policies” and “the protection of medical innovation”. They denied the relevance of comments Sinema made in a losing race early in her political career.

“Senator Sinema makes decisions based on one consideration: what is best for Arizona,” said spokesman John LaBombard.

But her embrace of influential donors, which she had once rejected, confuses many in her party.

“It creates the impression of a conflict of interest and the perception of industry groups having influence,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, who co-chaired Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign of Vermont. “How does she explain the role of all these contributions?”

Sinema, a former social worker who was involved in Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential election campaign for the Greens, only looked for a position as a Democrat after two unsuccessful applications in Arizona as a progressive or independent.

After winning a seat at Arizona House in 2004, her political personality began to change. Sinema gradually retooled as a moderate, rising through the democratic minority of the legislature while positioning itself for higher office as the state moved from a republican stronghold to an electoral battleground.

Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, two Democratic centrists, climb an elevator as they exit a session on Capitol Hill in Washington.  Photo / APSenators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, two Democratic centrists, climb an elevator as they exit a session on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo / AP

Since her election to the US House of Representatives in 2012, the candidate, who once railed against the “Almighty Dollar” of capitalism, has welcomed the contributions of industrial groups and corporate political action committees. She has raised at least $ 3 million from CEOs, executives, investors, lobbyists and financial sector workers, campaign funding records show.

Sinema’s campaign account comes from the fact that many in her party have rejected such donations and denounced them as evidence of deep-seated corruption in Washington.

Sinema is hardly the only one who raises money from special interests during a major legal dispute, but the extent of Sinema’s fundraising campaigns between April and September is remarkable. Her objections to Biden’s legislation then gave her massive influence over the future of his bill. The roughly $ 3 million she raised during this time is the best income of her career outside of the 2018 election when she ran for the U.S. Senate for the first time.

But there was earlier evidence that she was attracted to business interests.

Last year she helped initiate a bipartisan caucus to “raise awareness of the benefits of personalized medicine,” an expensive form of precision treatment for diseases that are difficult to cure. Her current opposition to corporate and high earning tax hikes comes after she voted against President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cut bill, which lowered the corporate tax rate to the current 21 percent while also giving high earners a discount.

Among the donors:

– Executives and a PAC for drug maker Amgen donated at least $ 21,500 in 2021. Almost all Amgen donations were pooled in late June when the Democrats pushed legislation that would have cut revenue for drug companies by allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices. Sinema’s opposition was instrumental in helping lawmakers pursue a scaled-down version that is now moving forward in the House of Representatives. The new plan would allow Medicare to negotiate the price of about 100 drugs in a matter of years, while capping monthly insulin co-payments for many at $ 35.

CEO Robert Bradway gave Sinema $ 5,000; two company lobbyists gave an additional $ 3,000.

—Sinema raised at least $ 27,000 this year from major drug companies like Takeda, GlaxoSmithKline, Genentech, and Eli Lilly. Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the leading trade organization representing drug manufacturers, has been a major source of funding for an ad group promoting Sinema as “independent and effective for Arizona,” records show.

– Twelve executives at investment bank Goldman Sachs have donated $ 37,000 to Sinema since May. This includes Goldman President John Waldron, who donated a maximum of $ 5,800 in August. Sinema’s office said that while it does not support increases in corporate taxes, it does support the introduction of a corporate minimum tax so that companies cannot entirely avoid paying their fair share, which is now included in Biden’s plan.

—Executors, managers, and a corporate PAC for Ryan LLC, a global tax consultancy firm, raised over $ 72,000 to Sinema’s campaign account in late August and September. That made Ryan, whose employees and PAC had not previously donated to Sinema, one of their most important corporate donors. The Texas-based company advertises “relieving our customers of the burden of being overwhelmed”. In August, USA Today reported that the company’s officials were involved in an FBI investigation into whether they had pressured the government of Arizona Governor Doug Ducey to give a Ryan customer a tax refund in the millions.

Checks have also been received from Jimmy Haslam III, longtime Republican donor and owner of the Cleveland Browns, and wife Susan, who gave Sinema $ 8,700 in June and September; Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, twins who run a private equity firm and are perhaps best known for successfully suing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who paid $ 5,800 each in July; and Stanley Hubbard, a billionaire Minnesota television and radio station mogul who donated millions of dollars to GOP affairs, who donated $ 2,900 in September.

Sinema has drawn the ire of her fellow Congressmen who say she has blocked proposals that almost all Democratic lawmakers support.

“It would be a tragedy for us not to fix the unjust corporate tax system so that corporations and individuals pay their fair share,” said Pramila Jayapal from Washington State, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which has an important role in helping the negotiations played the bill.

Senator Bernie Sanders focused on helping Sinema to address the pharmaceutical industry’s priorities.

“It is incomprehensible that there is a member of the US Congress who is unwilling to vote for us to cut the cost of prescription drugs,” he said last month. He added that he hoped Sinema “does what the people of Arizona want”.

Some longtime Democratic Party’s financiers have also grown frustrated with them.

“With all the tension in the party, people have long memories,” said Michael Smith, a Los Angeles donor whose partner James Costos served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Spain.

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