Senator Mark Kelly, the Democrat who unseated Martha McSally in Arizona this past November, has made quite a show of his pledge not to accept corporate PAC money — even going so far as to say that its presence in our politics “poisons our democracy.”
But Kelly’s rule is full of loopholes, which allow him to do things like accept a donation in May from a Huawei lobbyist. And that’s not all. During his campaign, he delivered remarks at a fundraising event at the lobbying firm Capitol Counsel — which represents Exxon-Mobile, Chevron, JPMorgan Chase, and Lockheed Martin, among other clients. The Intercept reported at the time that invitations specified that donations to Kelly’s campaign should come in the form of personal, rather than corporate PAC checks so as to technically keep him compliant with his pledge.
Roll Call noted that Kelly accepted $185,000 from CEOs during just the first quarter of 2019, and “$245,000 more came from donors whose occupations were owners, founders, presidents, vice presidents or chief officers.” Kelly’s defenders, including End Citizens United — a campaign-finance-reform advocacy group that endorsed him — say that individual donations are substantially different from those that come directly from a PAC, although the instructions accompanying the Capitol Counsel fundraiser might suggest otherwise.
Whatever your thoughts on that distinction, though, there would certainly seem to be a substantive difference between a politician accepting donations from someone working for an American corporation, and someone working for or on behalf of a foreign corporation. Particularly when that foreign corporation is being not only scrutinized but actively opposed by the American government the way that Huawei Technologies is.
Huawei is a Chinese telecommunications company that sells consumer products and works on more critical communications infrastructure. It was, for example, initially enlisted by the United Kingdom to help build the country’s 5G network. After having pressure applied on it from the United States, however, Boris Johnson’s government decided to prohibit the use of Huawei equipment.
The U.S. advocated such a decision because of a number of security risks posed by the company. Huawei has not only mislead about its business with the rogue Iranian regime, but also been accused by the Justice Department of stealing trade secrets. Perhaps most notably, the U.S. does not trust that Huawei will keep data from the Chinese government should it demand the firm’s cooperation in security and espionage efforts — something the Chinese Communist Party reserves the right to do under Chinese law.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went so far as to announce that the U.S. would not “be able to share information” with countries that move forward with plans like the U.K.’s original one for its network and “puts it [Huawei equipment] in some of their critical information systems.”
In light of all this, it is surprising that Kelly would accept a $1,000 donation from Thomas Green, a lawyer at Sidley Austin and registered lobbyist on behalf of Huawei, per OpenSecrets. While the junior senator from Arizona may be able to rake in the campaign contributions from individual lobbyists and other major corporate donors all the while keeping progressives pleased with his PAC pledge, it’s less clear if he’ll be able to justify taking money from lobbyists for foreign corporations explicitly opposed — and even suspected of committing crimes — by the government for which Kelly works.
This is not the first time that Kelly’s relationship with Chinese entities has come into question.
World View Enterprises, a space-exploration company co-founded by Kelly, has accepted investment money from Tencent Holdings, a Chinese firm that owns the messaging app WeChat and is known for its close ties to the Chinese Communist Party. Kelly reportedly played a key role in securing Tencent’s investment, and his campaign accepted $5,000 in contributions from David Wallerstein, Tencent’s chief exploration officer. The senator continues to have a stake in World View to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Kelly has frequented Chinese government-sponsored conferences, deeming his attendance at them “one of the absolute highlights of my life, second only to flying in space,” according to the Washington Free Beacon.