Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) announced her departure from the Democratic Party last December, but the first-term U.S. senator still uses platforms typically utilized by Democrats and progressives to raise money for her 2024 reelection campaign, which has yet to be formally announced.
Sinema’s campaign committee reported raising over $2.1 million in the first three months of 2022, ending March with $10 million on hand. Over $1 million was transferred from the Sinema Leadership Fund, a joint fundraising committee that splits contributions between Sinema’s campaign committee and her leadership PAC, Getting Stuff Done.
The joint fundraising committee’s donation page explicitly states that funds will go in part to Sinema’s 2024 reelection, OpenSecrets found, even though the senator has not officially announced her candidacy. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that an internal presentation suggests Sinema is gearing up to run as an independent.
Donations to the joint fundraising committee are facilitated through Democracy Engine, which describes itself as a nonpartisan for-profit donation processor but almost exclusively raises money for Democratic politicians. If Sinema instead decides to run in the Democratic primary and loses, Arizona law would bar her from running in the general election as an independent.
Although Sinema was not up for reelection during the 2022 midterms, she was the largest recipient of funds through Democracy Engine during the last election cycle. In addition to money from her joint fundraising committee, about $220,000 of Sinema’s 2023 contributions were facilitated through Democracy Engine.
Democracy Engine declined to comment.
Sinema has also continued to raise money through ActBlue, an “online fundraising platform for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot, progressive organizations, and nonprofits.” In the first quarter of 2023, at least $450,000 of Sinema’s fundraising came through ActBlue. During that time, Sinema’s campaign paid ActBlue and Democracy Engine about $18,000 and $13,000 in merchant fees, respectively.
In the past, ActBlue has kicked some politicians off of its platform due to scandals or political affiliation changes. High-profile examples include former Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who lost access to the platform amid his 2021 sexual harassment scandal, and Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.), who was reportedly removed by ActBlue when he switched to the Republican party in 2019.
ActBlue declined to comment for this story, but its website specifies the criteria used to determine which candidate can use the platform. While independents are usually barred from ActBlue in races that feature a Democrat, an exception is made for incumbents that have “a proven history of caucusing with Democrats,” which Sinema has continued to do after her party shift.
Sinema did not respond to OpenSecrets’ requests for comment.
Senate Race Landscape Still Sparse
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) is the only prominent Democrat to announce his bid for Sinema’s U.S. Senate seat so far. Gallego was first elected to the U.S. House in 2014, representing Arizona’s 7th Congressional District until last year, when he was elected to serve in the state’s 3rd Congressional District after redistricting.
So far, Sinema has a significant cash advantage over Gallego, though Gallego raised more funds in the first quarter of 2023.
After outraising a challenger vying for his House seat 39-fold in the 2022 midterms, Gallego left the year with $1.3 million on hand. Since launching his Senate bid in late January, Gallego raised $3.8 million and spent $2.3 million, leaving his Senate campaign with $2.7 million at the end of March.
Over half of Gallego’s funds are made up of small donations from individual donors giving $200 or less. An OpenSecrets analysis found that small-donor contributions made up less than 1% of contributions to Sinema.
Most of the money spent by Gallego’s 2024 Senate campaign went to Aisle 518 Strategies, a progressive political firm that has been used by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and others. The $1.6 million Gallego’s campaign paid to Aisle 518 Strategies so far went to digital consulting, list acquisition, SMS and digital fundraising services.
Democratic politicians — like Kelly and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — have largely refrained from endorsing either candidate in Arizona’s U.S. Senate race, often citing how much time lies between now and the election. However, the campaigns of Democratic California Reps. Nancy Pelosi, Eric Swalwell and Ted Lieu have contributed to Gallego’s campaign.
On the other side of the aisle, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb is the most prominent Republican to have announced a bid for Arizona’s U.S. Senate seat. Lamb officially launched his campaign shortly after the first quarter FEC filing deadline so his first fundraising report will not be available until July.
According to February polling data from O.H. Predictive Insights, Gallego is favored to win head-to-head matchups against Sinema and all other potential candidates. Other potential Republican candidates include former Arizona GOP candidate for U.S. Senate Blake Masters and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake.