Mark Kelly Sidesteps Self-Imposed Ban on Corporate PAC Money

Hauls in $21,500 from leadership PACs heavily funded by corporate PACs in first quarter

Mark Kelly
Mark Kelly / Getty Images
April 22, 2020

Arizona Democratic Senate candidate Mark Kelly, who has decried the influence of corporate money in politics, is using a loophole to benefit from it.

Kelly, the husband of former representative Gabby Giffords (D., Ariz.), pulled in a massive $11 million in contributions between January 1 and March 31. The first-quarter fundraising haul included nearly $75,000 in transfers from other PACs—$21,500 of which came from committees fueled by money from corporate PACs, including one associated with a company in which Kelly holds financial stakes.

Kelly has called corporate PAC money "one of the biggest problems in our politics today" and made rejecting it a cornerstone of his run to oust Republican incumbent senator Martha McSally. Despite the self-imposed ban, he has already received cash from corporate-tied PACs by using a workaround—taking the money through other Democratic leadership PACs. Kelly also earned $1.8 million from speaking gigs, including payments from large corporations.

Kelly's latest filings show that his campaign received a $10,000 donation from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's (D., Ariz.) Getting Stuff Done PAC during the first quarter. Sinema's leadership PAC is primarily funded by dozens of corporate PACs, including PACs associated with Goldman Sachs, Google, JP Morgan Chase, and Visa, its filings show.

Sinema's PAC also received thousands from the Apollo Education Group, the owner of the University of Phoenix. In 2016, Apollo was sold to the Vistria Group, a Chicago-based private equity firm. Kelly received $50,000 in board compensation from Vistria last year and holds investments in the group valued between $65,000 and $165,000. Following Apollo's fire sale, Vistria announced as many as 170 layoffs and closed schools, affecting thousands of students. The University of Phoenix also amassed over 1,000 fraud complaints since Vistria took over its ownership.

Kelly's campaign received donations from other Democratic leadership PACs, including $2,500 from Sen. Patrick Leahy's (D., Vt.) Green Mountain PAC. Leahy's PAC has hauled in tens of thousands from the corporate PACs of Comcast, Google, Boeing, Microsoft, and others.

Kelly also took in $5,000 from Sen. Mark Warner's (D., Va.) Forward Together PAC, which has received tens of thousands from corporate PACs this cycle. A $2,500 donation was passed from Sen. Mazie Hirono's (D., Hawaii) Pineapple PAC, also awash in corporate PAC contributions. Rep. Karen Bass's (D., Calif.) Sea Change Leadership PAC, which received money from Google's and AT&T's corporate PACs in 2020, gave $500 to Kelly's committee.

Other donations include $1,000 from former senator Bill Nelson's (D., Fla.) Moving America Forward PAC. While Nelson's PAC has reported no new donations this cycle, it received a combined six figures in the 2018 cycle from PACs associated with Northrop Grumman, AT&T, Comcast, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield, among others.

Kelly hauled in at least $55,000 earlier this cycle from Democratic leadership PACs that receive corporate PAC money. His campaign did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Kelly has also personally profited from corporate cash. The former NASA astronaut has made $1.8 million from speeches, including $290,400 since his campaign launched. Some of the engagements were sponsored by Goldman Sachs, Optum, and the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Democratic representative Ruben Gallego (Ariz.) criticized Kelly in March 2019 for pledging not to take donations from corporate PACs after profiting from the speaking engagements.

"It's kind of weird, though, to say you're not taking corporate PAC money, but then also directly taking corporate PAC money into your personal account," Gallego said at the time. "I don’t understand why even take that pledge if you’re not personally living that."

Published under: Arizona , Martha McSally