Exxon, Big Pharma, and Wall Street Lobbyists to Host Fundraiser for Mark Kelly in Washington

Kelly isn't taking corporate PAC donations. But he's still giving paid corporate speeches and fundraising with lobbyists for ExxonMobil and the NFL.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 23:  Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) (L) and her husband, retired Navy combat veteran and NASA astronaut Mark Kelly (R), participate in a news conference on gun control March 23, 2018 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The lawmaker, joined by students and gun control advocates, held a news conference "to demand action on gun safety."  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, left, and her husband, retired Navy combat veteran and NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, at a news conference on gun control in Washington, D.C., on March 23, 2018. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Arizona Senate candidate Mark Kelly will appear later this month at a high-dollar fundraiser in Washington, D.C. hosted by one of the city’s top corporate lobbying firms. The K Street firm represents major fossil fuel companies, including Exxon Mobil and Chevron; Wall Street banks such as JPMorgan Chase; defense industry giant Lockheed Martin; and the lobby group PhRMA.

Kelly’s fundraiser with the corporate lobbying behemoth comes as he launched his campaign on the back of a pledge not to accept corporate PAC donations. Indeed, the invitation to the fundraiser, obtained by The Intercept, specifies that attendees should not pay with corporate PAC checks.

Instead, those lobbyists will be asked to pay with personal checks, meaning that disclosure records will not reflect any contributions from drug makers, banks, or any other clients associated with the lobbying firm, Capitol Counsel.

Image: Obtained by 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.”

“This campaign is about the people of Arizona, not corporate PACs and the mess they’ve created in Washington,” Kelly is quoted as saying on his campaign website. “I won’t take a dime of corporate PAC money, and I’ll only answer to Arizonans.”

But the K Street fundraiser is just one link with corporate money that remains intact. Kelly on Monday spoke at the corporate-funded SHARE Technology Exchange expo in Phoenix, which describes itself as “the largest convergence of enterprise IT professionals.” Both Broadcom and IBM — whose executives will speak at the conference later this week — are the event’s top sponsors, alongside Dell EMC, Hitachi, Rocket Software, and others.

Democrats, once close allies with big tech, have begun to view the industry more skeptically, as a handful of firms have increasingly come to dominate the field. It is unusual for a candidate to continue to give paid corporate speeches after the launch of a campaign, as it allows companies to give directly to the individual, rather than support the person’s campaign by going through a Super PAC or the firm’s corporate PAC.

Broadcom has faced international and congressional scrutiny in recent years for a series of merger attempts that alarmed antitrust advocates — one of which President Donald Trump blocked. Bain Capital, the famed private equity firm known for chewing up and spitting out smaller companies, orchestrating tax-evasion schemes, and buying out a for-profit hospital chain, last year bought a majority stake in Rocket Software. The Securities and Exchange Commission in 2015 brought charges against Japanese conglomerate Hitachi for making improper payments to the African National Congress’s investment company and subsequently securing contracts to construct two power plants. Hitachi paid $19 million to settle the charges.

Kelly’s campaign told The Intercept that his previous speeches were a way to make ends meet in the wake of the assassination attempt on his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords. His campaign spokesperson, Jacob Peters, said Kelly would keep engagements he’d already committed to, but wouldn’t be adding any others. And Peters pointed out that the content of Kelly’s speeches is always pretty much the same: detailing his experiences as an astronaut and his and Giffords’s journey after the 2011 shooting. The campaign said Kelly does not discuss policy or his campaign at the speeches.

Peters told The Intercept that Kelly’s lobbyist-hosted fundraiser “is not a paid speech,” and that the SHARE engagement was a prior commitment.

The Intercept previously reported that Kelly has given paid speeches to the likes of Goldman Sachs, the Cayman Alternative Investment Summit, and opioid giant AmerisourceBergen.

The fundraiser, scheduled for March 26 in Washington, D.C., is being co-hosted by Capitol Counsel’s Jenn Fogel-Bublick, Drew Goesl, Josh Kardon, Ethan Pittleman, as well as Andy Rosenberg of Thorn Run Partners.

Fogel-Bublick served as counsel to the Senate Banking Committee and worked with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She was formerly the legislative director at the National Low Income Housing Coalition and former executive vice president of McBee Strategic (now Signal Group). Her clients at Capitol Counsel include the National Low Income Housing Coalition, JPMorgan Chase, Planned Parenthood, and SunTrust Bank.

As a chief of staff for former Arkansas Democratic Rep. Mike Ross, Goesl worked to advance the legislative priorities of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, which Ross chaired. He was also communications director for former Arkansas Democratic Rep. Blanche Lincoln. In his role at Capitol Counsel, he has worked to permanently decrease taxes on capital gains and dividends. He also worked to help pass Congress’s 2017 tax reform bill. He’s represented Merck, Las Vegas Sands, PhRMA, and Comcast, among others.

Kardon, former senior vice president at the Capitol Hill Consulting Group, was previously chief of staff to former California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, served as her legislative director, and advised her on energy and environmental issues. He served as chief of staff to Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, directed subcommittee staff under former Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers, and was Oregon chair for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. Among the companies he’s represented are Exxon Mobil, Walmart, and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Pittleman was formerly a policy adviser to Oregon Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader, a Blue Dog co-chair, and deputy director of federal affairs for former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber. His current clients include the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the American Health Care Association.  

Rosenberg was previously a Hill staffer for the Senate HELP Committee and worked on former Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Kennedy’s personal staff. He co-founded and was a senior adviser to Draft Obama, a grassroots organization that encouraged Barack Obama to run for president, which is now setting its sights on his wife, Michelle. He also consulted for the Democratic National Committee on election law and coordinated the DNC’s 2004 Philadelphia-area Voter Protection Initiative. Rosenberg advised John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign on health care and policy in the Middle East. In 2004, he also ran for Congress in Virginia’s 8th Congressional District. His clients at Thorn Run include GlaxoSmithKline, the Medical Device Manufacturers Association, Novartis AG, and Partnership for Part D Access.

Kelly will likely face a primary challenge from Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego in the 2020 race for the seat currently held by Republican Sen. Martha McSally. She was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Jon Kyl, who took Sen. John McCain’s place after his death. The race sets up an opportunity for Arizona to be represented by two Democratic senators for the first time in over 60 years.

As progressive candidates across the country demonstrate that they can win, with or without help from establishment Democrats, many have sworn off corporate PAC money and adopted stances to appeal to voters disenchanted with the status quo. But signing a pledge is one thing. Cutting off corporate influence altogether is another, particularly in Kelly’s case.

The state has moved further left in recent years, and Kelly has taken note, campaigning on combating climate change and lowering prescription drug prices, as well as universal health care coverage. Kelly has also made gun control a priority since the assassination attempt on Giffords. And he says he’ll continue that push should he reach the Senate. Gallego has made a name for himself in Congress by advocating for Medicare for All and protection for Dreamers, among other progressive policies. Gallego himself has taken $763,849 in corporate PAC donations over the course of his career. He told The Intercept that his team hadn’t yet discussed whether his campaign would continuing accepting those contributions should he run for Senate.

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