Last month, we filed a public records request for Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s divorce papers. The request came back with many enlightening insights, such as that the Congresswoman — who wrote the book Unite and Conquer: How to Build Coalitions That Win and Last in 2009 and then declined to unite with her colleagues in passing the Build Back Better legislation that would have funded climate and social benefit infrastructure — kept her 1997 Nissan Maxima SE when she divided and conquered her marriage in 1999.
The records also included some other intriguing information. Specifically, they included Sinema’s social security number, bank account information, and drivers’ license number. It’s possible she has since changed one or more of these (her office did not respond to Gawker’s request for comment). Typically, documents requested through open records law come with sensitive personal information redacted. But in this case, the inclusion of Sinema’s personal information was not a clerical error on the part of the Maricopa County Court; we checked. (For the record, out of respect for Sinema and because we like our jobs, we won’t be publishing her number. The number above is from the Soulja Boy song “Kiss Me Thru the Phone”).
Because the documents were filed in 1999, they were not subject to the county’s current secure system for logging and storing confidential personal information. And because of Arizona’s public records regulations — which make legal documents much more accessible than those in the supposedly liberal states of say, California or New York — the clerk’s office said they were under no obligation to redact that information without a court order. On the whole, this is pretty good for transparency and what remains of the free press. The fallout is that anyone modestly familiar with navigating legal databases can obtain a United States senator’s social security number for $11 in processing fees.
You’re probably familiar with social security numbers. These nine-digit identifiers were created in 1936 as part of the New Deal, FDR’s suite of public works programs and financial reforms that laid the foundation for America’s weakening social safety net — and one that, if Sinema’s current voting record is any indicator, she would have likely opposed. The numbers came about after Congress passed the Social Security Act in 1935, establishing the program that would use payroll taxes to fund insurance payments for the unemployed and elderly, and creating the Social Security Administration to oversee the program. The development process was delayed for more than three months due to, ironically, a filibuster by Sen. Huey Long, but they eventually developed the SSN as a means of tracking workers’ earning history to determine their entitlements.
You can do a lot with a social security number. Unfortunately, if the number in question isn’t yours, most of what you can do with it is a felony. For example, we were hoping to run a credit report on Sinema. But that seems to be illegal if you are not, per Legal Beagle, “a business or individual qualifying a person for a job, insurance, government benefits or tenancy.” (One might argue that any of Sinema’s voting constituents are technically “qualifying [her] for a job,” but none of us is registered to vote in Arizona). We also considered wiring a deposit of $0.69 into her bank account. No theft there. It’s more like a campaign donation and every dollar counts. But the legalities seemed iffy, and none of the lawyers Gawker contacted for comment were interested in indulging our largely stupid game.
In any case, Sinema has made Social Security a long-standing priority in her political platform. During her 2012 race for the House of Representatives, she wrote on her campaign website that Social Security and Medicare were “a promise made to Arizona seniors,” pledging to oppose “any plan to put Social Security at the whims of Wall Street.” and “the Republican plan to make Medicare into a voucher program.” In her 2018 campaign, she touted herself as “the only candidate for Senate who refuses to cut Medicare and Social Security or raise the retirement age.” At the time, Politifact rated the statement as “half-true,” citing similar sentiments in her opponents. But however accurate, the claim didn’t keep Sinema from opposing a provision in the reconciliation bill that would have expanded Medicare to include dental, vision, and hearing benefits; or supporting an amendment that, as the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans put it, “paves the way for cuts to Social Security and Medicare.”
At the very least, Sinema believes it’s important to know about social security numbers — just last August, she cosponsored a bill with Maine Sen. Susan Collins called the “Know Your Social Security Act.” Sure, the bill was calling for a procedural change that would require the SSA to issue statements informing citizens of their estimated benefits. But the sentiment is there and we agree. It is important to Know Your Social Security. In this case, it just happens to be hers.