U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is known as a big spender on security for her campaigns — and it turns out the provider of security is the sister of former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.
Campaign finance documents reviewed by The Daily Beast show that Sinema’s campaign committees have spent $307,000 on security provided by TOA Group LLC, whose sole officer is Vrindivan Gabbard Bellord, Tulsi Gabbard’s sister.
Bellord has also been the security director for Sinema’s Senate office since fall 2021, a job that brings Bellord more than $50,000 annually, and she appears to be the only person employed in security for Sinema’s campaign, which is a separate entity from her Senate office, the Beast reports. Bellord and TOA Group do not seem to have any other clients.
Sinema is the first out bisexual to serve in the U.S. Senate (and before that, she was the first in the House), and she is one of only two out LGBTQ+ senators, the other being Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, a lesbian. Gabbard, who once represented a Hawaii district in the U.S. House, has a record of anti-LGBTQ+ comments, although she has said she was wrong in opposing marriage equality. She made that apology in 2019, when she was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.
But on her way out of Congress in 2020, she introduced a bill to bar transgender girls and women from competing in female sports nationwide; it went nowhere. In 2022, she posted a video to social media saying Florida's “don’t say gay” law doesn’t go far enough in censoring the discussion of sexuality and gender identity in public schools.
Like Sinema, Gabbard has recently left the Democratic Party. Sinema announced in December that she was changing her registration from Democrat to independent, although she continues to caucus with the Democrats in the Senate — where she and Joe Manchin of West Virginia are the most conservative Democrats.
Last October, Gabbard, who was launching a podcast, said she could “no longer remain in today’s Democratic Party.” She accused the party of “anti-white racism” and said President Joe Biden’s administration is targeting as terrorists “parents who are vocally standing in opposition to radical curriculums and explicit sexual content being taught to their kids in public schools” and erasing women by supporting transgender people. She has campaigned for several Republican candidates without saying outright that she is joining the party.
Sinema and Gabbard have been close friends since they were freshmen in Congress in 2013, the Beast notes, and Sinema likely got to know Bellord through Gabbard. But the amount Sinema has paid Bellord over the years raises questions about ethics, according to the outlet.
Under Federal Election Commission regulations, candidates can use campaign funds for personal security, but the large sum paid to Bellord is “eye-opening,” Saurav Ghosh, a former campaign finance attorney now at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, told the Beast. He added that if Sinema is Bellord’s only client, that is “one of the biggest red flags.”
Brendan Fischer, executive director of Documented, a watchdog group, told the site it’s “exceptionally rare” for the same person to be paid for the same work with both political campaigns, funded by private contributors, and a public office, where taxpayer monies pay for staffing.
“Using both campaign and taxpayer funds to pay tens of thousands of dollars to a close friend’s sister — as well as a number of fringe benefits — warrants some degree of an explanation,” Fischer said.
Sinema did not respond to the Beast’s requests for comment. She is up for reelection next year but has not said if she is running. Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego has announced he’s running for the Senate seat she occupies.