A consortium of political advocacy groups are pushing for an investigation into allegations that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) has had staffers running her personal errands and performing sundry household tasks on the taxpayer dime.
As first reported in December by The Daily Beast, Sinema aides are bound by a 37-page memo that lays out a very specific set of demands: the senator’s groceries are to be picked up promptly, her hour-long massages are to be booked weekly, and her internet service at home in D.C. must always be in working order. (If not, an assistant “should call Verizon to schedule a repair” so a staff member can be there to let a technician into her apartment, according to the memo.)
Now, 13 progressive nonprofits—including, among others, the Arizona Democracy Resource Center, Sunrise Movement Tempe, Patriotic Millionaires, and Vets Forward—have filed a formal complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee over Sinema’s alleged behavior.
The accusations “paint a picture of a Senator who is not only unresponsive to her constituents, but also disrespectful and even abusive to her employees and wholly unconcerned about her obligations under the law,” they wrote in a three-page letter dated Feb. 2.
“Most troubling,” the letter alleges, Sinema, who recently switched from the Democratic Party to govern as an Independent, “calls on staff members, who are employed and paid by the public and explicitly barred from campaign activity, to schedule and facilitate political fundraisers and meetings with campaign donors, presumably during the workday while they are on the clock and physically on federal property.”
The Hill was first to report on the existence of the letter.
Sinema, who has raised hackles among Democrats for blocking party initiatives, has previously faced criticism that she is “a difficult boss who walked the line of appropriate behavior with staff, and at times crossed it,” the letter continues. She is accused of having her scheduler drive her on errands in her personal car, and making staffers drive from Arizona to D.C. early in the COVID pandemic while she flew. While these actions may not have specifically violated the letter of the law, they did violate the spirit of the law, according to the groups’ missive. But the allegations in the memo made public by The Daily Beast in December “unambiguously point” to violations of the letter of the law, the letter says.
“Given that many of the activities that the Senator has allegedly required of staff appear to be unambiguous violations of Senate Ethics Committee guidelines that interpret the rules adopted by the Senate pursuant to the Constitution, you can understand that we find the allegations concerning,” the letter continues. “In the public interest, we ask that the Committee conduct a comprehensive and fair investigation and, in the event that these concerns are substantiated, we ask the Committee to take remedial action.”
In an email to The Daily Beast on Friday, a spokesperson for Sunrise Movement Tempe said the notion that Sinema forces Senate aides to attend to her personal concerns, which allegedly has included paying for her purchases and having to wait to be reimbursed, “is clearly unethical and an abuse of power.”
“Senate staff should be able to serve the people of Arizona and the Senator in her official legislative and representational duties without worrying about shopping and paying for her groceries or booking her massages,” the spokesperson said. “Arizonans deserve better.”
Craig Holman, a congressional ethics expert with D.C.-based nonprofit watchdog group Public Citizen, told The Daily Beast on Friday that the allegations against Sinema, if true, clearly constitute a violation of Senate ethics rules. Yet, Holman noted that Sinema insists she did not have a hand in drafting or implementing the staff guidelines in question.
“The Senate ethics committee could and should use its investigative authority to answer the allegations one way or the other,” he said. “However, the ethics committee operates in secrecy and, more often than not, buries such complaints to protect their colleagues. It is entirely unclear whether the public will get a definitive answer to these allegations any time soon.”
Following The Daily Beast article in December, Sinema spokeswoman Hannah Hurley insisted that the senator “does not require staff to perform personal errands,” and that “the alleged information—sourced from anonymous quotes and a purported document I can’t verify—is not in line with official guidance from Sen. Sinema’s office and does not represent official policies of Sen. Sinema’s office.”