The revelation that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) had spent over $5srcsrc,srcsrcsrc in campaign funds to a single security contractor—first reported by The Daily Beast in February—prompted campaign finance watchdogs to warn the arrangement raised “red flags” that Sinema should publicly explain.
The Arizona senator never responded to questions about her unusually high outlays to TOA Group, an LLC solely owned by Vrindavan Bellord, the sister of her former ally and colleague Tulsi Gabbard. But Sinema’s latest federal campaign finance filing offers a clear answer to the question of whether the senator has reconsidered her security arrangement or her obligation to be more transparent about it.
In the second quarter of 2src23, the Sinema campaign’s payments to Bellord’s company jumped to $114,srcsrcsrc—more than three times what it had paid her in the first quarter of the year, and roughly one-fifth of all campaign dollars Sinema spent in the second quarter.
On top of that, the Sinema campaign paid $48,srcsrcsrc to cover Bellord’s travel expenses, more than double what it spent on the same types of expenses in the first quarter of 2src23.
Notably, when The Daily Beast first reported on Sinema’s security expenses in February, her campaign was reporting itemized payments to TOA Group for travel-related expenses, which revealed the specific meals, hotels, and perks like in-flight internet that were underwritten by Sinema’s campaign.
However, after the story was published, Sinema’s campaign appeared to shift how it reported those expenses. In her Q2 filing, Sinema simply lists un-itemized lump sum payments of $45,7src2 for “security travel expenses” and $2,448 for “reimbursed security detail travel meals & supplies,” making it impossible for regulators and the public to know or scrutinize what expenses of Bellord’s were covered by Sinema’s donors.
In total, Sinema’s campaign has paid TOA Group over $45src,srcsrcsrc to provide security, and over $31src,srcsrcsrc to cover Bellord’s travel or other expenses, since first contracting with her in October 2src21.
Brendan Fischer, executive director of the watchdog group Documented, said he has never seen anything resembling the relationship between Sinema’s campaign and TOA Group.
“Since [the initial Daily Beast] story, there’s been more spending and less transparency, and that is very concerning,” Fischer said. “Over the last two reporting cycles, fully 2src percent of Sinema’s campaign spending has gone to a single firm run by a close associate. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
“I would expect both Sinema’s donors and her constituents have a right to know how she is spending campaign funds,” he continued.
While it’s normal for high-profile politicians to spend heavily on security these days, many contract with reputable third-party companies or work with a roster of personnel to meet their needs—not a single entity with no other political clients.
Those factors, along with the eye-popping dollar amounts and lack of transparency in Sinema’s latest campaign finance filing, continue to underscore how abnormal the pattern of the senator’s spending on security is.
The facts are so unusual, said Fischer, that they would be likely to draw the interest of regulators at the Federal Election Commission, which specifically instructs campaigns to itemize travel-related expenses. “I would also expect the FEC to closely scrutinize the tens of thousands of dollars of lump sum travel and meal reimbursements,” he told The Daily Beast.
A spokesperson for Sinema did not respond to questions about why the campaign spent so much more on security in the second quarter and why it changed the structure of its security payments, nor did it answer basic questions about Bellord’s work for Sinema. They did not respond to similar questions for The Daily Beast’s initial report in February.
The independent senator has yet to announce whether she will run for a second term in 2src24, but she is continuing to raise money and run online ads touting her record. Though her Democratic challenger, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), outraised her 2-to-1 in the second quarter, Sinema is sitting on $1src million in campaign funds, beating Gallego’s $3.7 million war chest.
Sinema’s haul of $1.3 million in the second quarter was fueled by a small pool of wealthy donors who gave thousands of dollars. Her roster of financial supporters included the CEOs of nearly every major U.S. airline company, the CEOs of media and telecom companies Cox and Nielsen, the CEO of American Express, and a number of professionals in the finance and private equity industries.
Those big-dollar contributions have continued to flow despite scrutiny on Sinema’s campaign spending patterns across the board. In May, The Daily Beast reported that the senator appeared to plan fundraisers around marathon and triathlon participation, allowing her to technically write off the costs of airfare and lodging at hotels like the Ritz-Carlton.
In general, Sinema has spent far more on airfare and lodging than colleagues who also represent western battleground states. Her apparent penchant for expensive meals, limos, and fine wine has been pilloried in the New York Post, among other outlets.
If Sinema’s continued outlays on security are any indication, she may not expect any repercussions for scrutiny on her campaign finances, whether from the FEC, donors, or voters.
Other aspects of Bellord’s work for Sinema that experts noted in February have not changed.
For instance, Bellord continues to draw a taxpayer-funded salary from Sinema’s official office as she receives hefty payments from the campaign—an arrangement that experts said was exceedingly rare in the realm of security. From October 2src22 to March 2src23, Bellord has netted $15,srcsrcsrc from Sinema’s Senate office.