Kyrsten Sinema is a brittle crackpot. When she attempted to make her jump from the Arizona state Senate to the U.S. House, we were on personally friendly terms even if I distrusted her transparently fake progressivism. She called me one day to ask for a Blue America endorsement and a contribution. She seemed majorly pissed off when I told her that there was an endorsement process and she wound up slamming down the receiver. It was the last time we ever spoke. The next time I saw her was in a restaurant in West Hollywood before it had opened the public for dinner. She and I were the only non-employees there. She was sitting at the bar and I walked over to my table to wait for my guests. A bout 30 seconds later she stormed out of the restaurant, never to return. She's like that and it's hard to imagine she has come this far in electoral politics with that kind of ugly attitude.
Yesterday, reporting for Puck, Ted Schleifer, wrote about how she pissed off someone far more important than I, progressive Los Altos psychiatrist Karla Jurvetson, one of the country's top Democratic campaign contributors. Never heard of her? She's written over 1,800 campaign checks to Democrats, and not for $100 pops. She gave several contributions amounting to nearly $15 million to the Elizabeth Warren-backing Persist PAC. She kept Warren's presidential campaign afloat. Her biggest single contribution was $9,600,000 and it went to Warren's PAC. She's also contributed multi millions of dollars to EMILY's List, to the efforts to win back state legislative seats and to voting rights groups. She's made $900,000 contributions to state Democratic parties in Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Pennsylvania-- and $2,000,000 to the Mississippi Democratic Party and over three million dollars to the Arizona Democratic Party. (Keep that number in mind for a couple of minutes.)
Jurvetson has regularly written 6-figure checks to the DNC, DCCC, DSCC and tp Pelosi's House Majority PAC and Schumer's Senate Majority PAC. Last year she gave each state's Democratic Party a $10,000 check-- except some states, like Georgia, North Carolina, Kansas and, of course, Arizona-- got multiples. She also gave multiples to Black Lives Matter PAC. Handing out big checks to state Democratic parties has been one of her hallmarks. Another is that she gives heavily to Democratic women candidates, regardless of whether they are progressive or conservative. She may be Elizabeth Warren's biggest campaign contributor but she has also been generous to some of the most conservative Democratic women (and men) like Cindy Axne (IA), Sharice Davids (KS) and, of course, Sinema, who would never support Warren's agenda.
I have to admit, that among Democratic contributors who have given millions to candidates, her list looks like it was the best thought-out and most consistent, especially when it comes to trying to flip state legislative seats.
Schleifer reported that Jurvetson may have spent over $200 million on the 2020 election cycle alone and that she's "increasingly comfortable battling in Washington. She may have come into politics somewhat exclusively as an advocate for female candidates, but she has since undergone a political maturation that isn’t uncommon as mega-donors wade further and further into the muck." He added "that Jurvetson is known for being far more hands-on than other donors when it comes to researching what to fund, hopping on exploratory calls with operatives to learn about their groups in a way that is uncommon for a donor of her stature, for instance."
Now that the fires of the Trump threat have been doused, at least temporarily, Jurvetson has found a new cri de guerre: democracy reform. Earlier this year, House Democrats passed a landmark voting rights bill, the For the People Act, which was promptly swatted down in the Senate. Democratic leadership are still trying to advance a pared-down version of the bill, but it remains virtually impossible to pass as long as moderate senators like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema resist reforming the filibuster.
Still, some leading progressives haven’t felt that Schumer and Joe Biden are doing all they can to prioritize the legislation. Several major donors have lodged complaints with the White House and Democratic leadership about the lack of urgency, I am told, with some making vague threats about denying future funding to the party until some version of the voting rights bill becomes law. “It’s just good money after bad now. So much money and time went in, victory secured, and Dems can’t wield power,” one frustrated Democratic major donor told me. “So investing now is like an abusive relationship.”
...And as is true with her donations, Jurvetson does much of this legwork herself. Her personal involvement on voting rights reflects what Democrats say is her strikingly unusual eagerness to engage in the trenches on substantive policy debates. Other donors outsource that to staff; Jurvetson joins the calls. This summer, she traveled to Washington multiple times to meet with activists and lawmakers.
But this is not a feel-good episode of The West Wing, and Jurvetson is not above political warfare when it comes to her No. 1 cause. Jurvetson has developed particular ire for Sinema-- “fucking hates her” in the words of one ally-- the [corrupt right wing] Arizona Democrat who has stymied liberals’ policy priorities, including on voting rights and on the reconciliation bill. What makes it feel more personal is that Jurvetson helped raise money for Sinema’s tough campaign in 2018. But the two have since fallen out. On a brusque private call in May that included Jurvetson and the Arizona senator, the two clashed over how Democrats could move on the filibuster, I hear, with the call ending rather abruptly.
Jurvetson has since spoken widely to her network about her desire to find and fund a primary challenger when Sinema faces reelection in 2024-- the sort of hardball tactic that other Democratic operatives may see as premature and even counter-productive, but certainly isn’t naive.