Mark Kelly, a Democratic Senate candidate in Arizona, is scheduled later this month to attend a high-dollar fundraiser hosted by one of the city's top lobbying firms, despite his pledge not to take "a dime of corporate PAC money."
Kelly, a former astronaut and the husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D., Ariz.), announced back in January that he was running for the Democratic nomination in Arizona in 2020. As part of his campaign platform, Kelly highlights on his website that "this campaign is about the people of Arizona, not corporate PACs and the mess they’ve created in Washington." He goes on to say that he will "only answer to Arizonans," but Capitol Counsel, the host of the fundraiser, represents numerous corporations like Exxon Mobil, Chevron, JPMorgan Chase, Lockheed Martin, among others, according to the Intercept.
While the fundraiser invitation specifies that the attendees should not pay with corporate PAC checks, the corporate lobbyists and executives can pay with personal checks. By doing this, disclosure records will not reflect any contributions from the banks or fossil fuel corporations that are clients of Capitol Counsel. Kelly is using the model to fit with modern expectations for candidates to avoid "corporate influence in politics," according to the Intercept.
The firm also represents Walmart, the NFL, Comcast, the American Health Care Association, the Health Care Service Corporation, the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, Edison Electric Institute, the National Business Aviation Association, and the Internet and Television Association.
The fundraiser comes as the old way of doing politics through big-money fundraising is colliding with a new model based on small donors. But the new paradigm has yet to fully take hold, which is leading candidates to try to mold the old approach to fit the new anti-corporate money mood.
Kelly clearly recognizes the salience of political corruption as an issue and criticized corporate influence in politics as part of his launch video, saying that "partisanship and polarization and gerrymandering and corporate money have ruined our politics."
Kelly received scrutiny from one of his potential challengers, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D., Ariz.), for breaking his "no corporate PAC money" pledge because he had previously made at least 19 paid appearances on a corporate speaking tour over the span of multiple years, the Intercept reported earlier this month.
Jacob Peters, Kelly's spokesperson, defended his corporate speaking tour by invoking the assassination attempt against Giffords in 2011. As a result of the shooting, Giffords was forced to resign from Congress and never reentered public office. In order to financially care for his wife's recovery, Peters said Kelly retired from the Navy and NASA and then began giving motivational speeches.
Peters was also asked by the Intercept whether Kelly would continue giving paid speeches, prompting Peters to say he "has made some previous commitments that he will fulfill, but is not taking any additional engagements." Some of the corporate speaking gigs were sponsored by Goldman Sachs, Optum, and Mortgage Bankers Association.
Gallego, who was endorsed by Progressive Change Campaign Committee PAC for not being "cozy with corporate insiders," has accepted $763,489 in corporate PAC money over his career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.