As Major Donors Abandon Sinema, Top Democratic Consultants Under Pressure to Follow

Opponents of Kyrsten Sinema have escalated their fight against the Arizona senator by going after the vendors that work with her campaign, after she refused to budge on doing away with filibuster rules that would have cleared the way for voting rights legislation.

The new tactic comes in the wake of the voting rights failure that Democrats say is urgently needed to protect democracy from Republican attacks on the ballot box, and after some Democratic donors to Sinema warned in a January letter that her inaction would lead them to abandon her and ask for their money back.

Ian Danley, the executive director of Arizona Wins, a coalition of more than 30 progressive groups — including LUCHA Arizona, Mi Familia Vota, Our Voice Our Vote and others — knocked on two million doors for Sinema, and together they spent $20 million during the last cycle.

After tweeting about the Democratic consulting firms and vendors that work with Sinema but also have other Democrats and progressive groups as clients, Danley said his group would not continue to work with vendors who work with her.

"I let somebody go yesterday," Danley told Newsweek, declining to identify the vendor. "His comment was 'If I get two or three more calls like this, that's the scope of the work I have with her, I'm going to go talk to my partners.'"

Danley said his argument to the consultant was "at this point EMILY's List has dropped, there's no one left in her corner, but a lot of us still have a lot of work to do."

EMILY's List, a national organization that supports women candidates who back abortion rights, was Sinema's largest donor in 2018, contributing more than $405,000.

Danley said Sinema "thinks it's still 2004," but he believes the new pressure point can work because grassroots organizations have matured and now engage in robust, expensive work from investing in broadcast media to direct mail, texting and digital programs.

Still, Sinema's blocking of voting rights legislation, as well as President Biden's social safety net and environmental legislation, has created a financial windfall for her campaign war chest, which now sits at more than $5.7 million a full 30 months before her seat comes up for a vote, according to NBC News.

Sinema raised more than $1.5 million at the end of 2021, including from wealthy Trump supporters Ken Langone and Nelson Peltz, after she and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin voted with Republicans to derail Joe Biden's legislative agenda, NBC News reported.

Chuck Rocha, a former Bernie Sanders senior advisor who started the "Run Ruben Run" campaign to coax Representative Ruben Gallego into a primary challenge against Sinema, said "the dirty secret in politics is that what progressives and conservative Democrats have in common is the same group of consultants."

"This is a great opportunity to start asking who is making the ad and who is working for who," Rocha told Newsweek. "I've been championing this for years, because I don't believe the same people that work against us on certain issues should be working for us on others."

Newsweek reached out to a dozen of Sinema's vendors paid by "Sinema for Arizona" in recent cycles, according to FEC reports, and only two responded.

Fulkerson Kennedy & Company (FK&Co), which cultivates donor networks on behalf of Democrats and helps with fundraising strategy, declined to answer questions about Sinema and any pressure the company has received.

"I don't think there's anybody that can help with that," an employee said, before quickly hanging up the phone.

FK&Co, which launched over a decade ago, counts Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin as clients, and has worked with former members of Congress like Evan Bayh and Jim Webb. It received 37 payments totaling $122,132 during the 2020 cycle from Sinema for Arizona and 25 payments totaling $215,407 for 2018.

Another principal for a Sinema vendor, who asked not to be named, said they had received "no reach-outs" from clients but would have been happy to have the conversation.

Though they had a few tweets on the subject directed their way, they said they "felt zero pressure" to drop Sinema.

Maria Teresa Kumar, the founder of Voto Latino, recently began its "Adios Sinema" campaign after a disappointing closed-door conversation with Sinema before she dealt the voting rights bill a major blow. The six-figure campaign seeks to primary Sinema and raised $55,000 during its first 24 hours.

Kumar, who has a long history of working with Democrats amicably told Newsweek a campaign like this usually isn't her style, but noted that when she ran it by "establishment" Democratic offices to let them know she was going to launch the campaign, "no one said no."

Still, while she is going after Sinema on her home turf, Kumar wouldn't go as far as supporting the pressure campaign on Sinema's consultants, saying only that "everybody has to make their own business decisions on how they conduct themselves."

Way To Win, a major progressive donor network that helped raise $110 million during the 2020 election, told Newsweek it supports new pressure points against Sinema. The group said EMILY's List dropping the Arizona senator was a major sign that the anger against her is mainstream, because an establishment institution was walking away from an incumbent, an action that wasn't easily dismissible the way pressure coming from lefty Democrats has been by Sinema.

Taking on Sinema is also good for business, with Way to Win's Primary Sinema PAC raising $126,161 in the ten days after her filibuster speech, nearly $50,000 more than the group raised in the ten days after its launch from nearly double the number of donors.

With Way to Win's initial $400,000 investment, the group's fundraising now stands at $770,000.

Sinema's speech in defense of the filibuster further angered Arizona Democrats and activists who felt it continued a pattern of her dismissing complaints from constituents with vigor, while stating that her rationale was standing against political "division" and upholding constitutional "guardrails" — arguments which they abhor.

"The day she made her speech, I think she kind of made her own bed," Belen Sisa, one of the organizers of a grassroots CrowdPAC campaign to fund a primary challenge against her, told Newsweek. "That's when things started going downhill for her really badly and gave justification for us to pressure her allies to abandon her."

Activists said they see the vendors strategy as similar to the pressure put on EMILY's List to drop Sinema, and believe it can serve as a blueprint aimed at recalcitrant Democrats in the future.

"This is not just about Sinema, it's about letting Democrats know there are consequences when you abandon the issues we elected you to defend and support," Danley said. "We work for the people, not the candidates, and when they abandon us we will have to go after them, that's just how it is."

Luis Avila, a Phoenix-based community organizer who works with progressive activists, said the strategy has emerged because Sinema has become inaccessible in the state. But he also also traced the pressure to a tradition of activism around economic boycotts that goes back to the fight against the anti-immigrant SB1070 law in 2010.

Sinema, was a familiar sight then at liberal protests and immigration rallies, so she knows "this was one of the biggest weapons we used to stop anti-immigrant legislation in the past," Avila told Newsweek.

"This is about telling people aligned with her that they can't speak out of both sides of their mouths, working with clients fighting the filibuster and also working with her," he said of the consultants who remain with her. "It's about informing people working with her about the repercussions of their associations."

sinema filibuster
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) walks to her office in the basement of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 19, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Later that night the Senate held votes on voting rights legislation and Senate rules to amend the filibuster, which failed when Sinema and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin joined Republicans in opposing filibuster reform, which doomed the legislation. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images