Mark Kelly

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Mark Kelly is an Arizona activist. Married to Gabrielle Giffords.

Exxon Senators

Exxon Mobil Corp. lobbyist Keith McCoy listed six Democrats the oil giant saw as key allies to push its legislative agenda in the Senate in a secretly recorded sting video Greenpeace UK published late last month.

New analysis of campaign disclosures found the six Democratic senators ― Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Chris Coons (Del.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) ― received a combined total of nearly $333,000 from lobbyists, political action committees and lobbying firms affiliated with Exxon over the past decade.

The analysis of campaign disclosures, which the advocacy group Oil Change U.S. conducted and HuffPost reviewed, found Tester received the most in donations from Exxon Mobil ― $99,783 from seven lobbyists, the company’s PAC and four lobbying firms working for the firm.

The report includes some donations lobbyists at K Street behemoths such as Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck gave before taking on Exxon Mobil as a client. Spokespeople for Coons and Sinema said including those contributions in the total was “misleading” and “inaccurate.”

But Collin Rees, the senior campaigner at Oil Change U.S. who conducted the analysis, said the donations paint a fuller picture of Exxon Mobil’s influence taking stock of the relationships the company’s money helped cultivate as well as those that may have prompted the oil giant to hire certain lobbyists in the first place.

“This is a story about how lobbyists curry favor, and specifically about how Exxon’s current lobbyists have spent decades currying the favor of these six Democrats to position themselves to do things like safeguard fossil fuel subsidies and pare down infrastructure packages,” Rees said. “Exxon has hired these firms and lobbyists because they’ve contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to these Democrats, both before and after they were hired by Exxon.”

Counting donations from lobbyists like Arshi Siddiqui, some of which came before Exxon Mobil hired her, makes Sinema the No. 2 recipient on the list, with $70,800 in contributions from eight Exxon Mobil lobbyists, the company PAC and three lobbying firms.

“Inclusion of those contributions would be incredibly misleading,” John LaBombard, a spokesman for Sinema, said of money that came from lobbyists who also work for other clients. “Kyrsten’s work in the Senate is influenced by only one thing: what is best for Arizona.”

Coons came in third with $68,650 from seven lobbyists, the PAC and four lobbying firms.

“One of the other ones that aren’t talked about is Senator Coons, who’s from Delaware, who has a very close relationship with Senator Biden,” McCoy said in the now-viral video, in which he believed he was talking to corporate headhunters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. “So we’ve been working with his office. As a matter of fact, our CEO is talking to him next Tuesday.”

It’s unclear whether a meeting with Exxon Mobil chief Darren Woods took place.[1]

Supporting Deb Haaland

As a growing number of tribal and Native community leaders rally around Interior Secretary-designate Deb Haaland, Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly said he would vote to confirm her when the Senate takes up the nomination.

Kelly, a Democrat, said Haaland would bring strong leadership to the agency, which Arizona needs.

“I am committed to working with Rep. Haaland, Republicans and Democrats on policies that help our state’s economy grow, honor our outdoor heritage, and ensure that the federal government lives up to its treaty obligations to Arizona’s tribal communities,” he said in a statement.

Arizona tribal and community leaders also have come out in support of Haaland.

The Arizona Indigenous People's Caucus, which includes all six members of the Arizona Legislature who are tribal members or have tribal heritage, issued a statement on Feb. 23 calling for Haaland’s confirmation.

“Congresswoman Haaland knows government policies such as the forced removal of thousands of Native children from their families between 1860 and 1978,” the letter said, noting that Haaland’s grandmother was sent to a Catholic boarding school for five years at age 8.

“Congresswoman Haaland's life experiences make her uniquely suited to manage the priorities of protecting our natural resources for generations to come and to protect the economic well-being of the communities whose livelihoods rely upon our natural resources,” the group wrote. They also said Haaland understands the disproportionate impact that climate change has had on Indigenous communities.

In a letter to Kelly, Shan Lewis, vice chairman of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe and president of the Inter Tribal Association of Arizona, said “tribal leaders fully understand the critical role of the Secretary of Interior in carrying out the trust relationship between the United States and federally recognized Indian Tribes.” The association represents 21 of the 22 tribes in Arizona.

The only tribe that is not a member of the association, the Navajo Nation, sent its own support letter.

“Representative Deb Haaland demonstrated outstanding leadership on important issues that are central to the mission of the U.S. Department of the Interior — protecting people, public lands and economic opportunity,” despite overcoming hardships like raising a child alone and receiving government assistance to become a public servant, wrote Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer.

Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University, wrote on the website The Conversation about the historic nomination.

“Indian Country has a significant history with the Interior Department that has more often been bad than good,” wrote Morris, a member of the Chickasaw Nation. “But Haaland’s record shows that she is committed to making progress on larger challenges that affect all Americans. She has been especially vocal on climate, environmental protection, public lands and natural resource management.”

Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis changed his Facebook profile picture to one of him and Haaland.

“Making history today! Confirmation hearing of Cong. Deb Haaland for Secretary of the Interior,” Lewis wrote. “Calling on ALL Senators to move to confirm Deb so all of Indian Country has a strong federal partner! #BeFierce #DebforInterior #romeroartprojects”

Navajo County Supervisor Dawnafe Whitesinger, the first White Mountain Apache to be elected to the office, posted on Facebook: “Congresswoman Deb Haaland’s confirmation hearing continues tomorrow, then the Senate committee on Energy and Natural Resources has until March 2nd to vote to confirm her. It’s more important than ever to contact your senators to tell them to support #DebForInterior.” [2]

Tencent connection

Mark Kelly, has been reticent about the investment by a Chinese company in a commercial space exploration venture he co-founded. The company, tech giant Tencent, is one of the world’s largest internet enterprises and owns the Chinese social media platform WeChat. The text platform has more than a billion users and is suspected of monitoring the activity of many of them inside and outside of China.

In the fall of 2014, the CEO of World View Enterprises, the company Kelly co-founded, announced during a visit to Beijing that Tencent had invested an undisclosed sum of money in the Tucson-based space travel venture. In April 2016, as part of a subsequent, $15 million investment round, World View announced that it had received more funds from Tencent, along with three other venture capital firms.

Tencent was already under intense U.S. scrutiny before the COVID-19 world crisis. In addition to the surveillance suspicions, Tencent also sparked a U.S. backlash for suspending its streaming of National Basketball Association games after the Houston Rockets’ general manager praised Hong Kong democracy protests last fall.

A recent University of Toronto study found that WeChat has been censoring keywords relating to the COVID-19 outbreak since at least Jan. 1. Several prominent lawmakers in recent weeks have deemed Tencent an arm of the Chinese Communist Party and a threat to U.S. national security. Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley in late April introduced a bill aimed at preventing Chinese espionage by prohibiting U.S. federal employees from conducting official business over platforms run by Tencent, Huawei, ZTE and other Chinese companies and barring U.S. tax dollars from being used for any international contracts with those firms.

It’s not just a GOP concern. The United Nations in mid-April backed out of a deal with Tencent to provide videoconferencing and text services at the organization’s 75th anniversary after U.S. officials, lawmakers and human rights groups complained. Louis Charbonneau, the U.N. director for Human Rights Watch, called Tencent “an enabler of Chinese government oppression.”

Kelly served as a strategic adviser to World View until launching his Senate campaign last year. He maintains a personal financial stake in the company of between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of non-public stock and $15,001 and $50,000 worth of stock options, according to the financial disclosure records Kelly was required to file in his Senate bid. His eldest daughter also works there as the company’s business opportunity manager.

Additionally, Kelly’s campaign has accepted at least $5,000 from David Wallerstein, who serves as Tencent’s chief exploration officer, responsible for the company’s operations outside mainland China and overseeing business initiatives with multinational partners.[3]

China connections

The Chinese government invited then-astronaut Mark Kelly, now an Arizona Democratic Senate candidate, to an all-expenses-paid retreat at a countryside resort in 2003. He left China five days later not only with a future spouse, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D., Ariz.) but also with lucrative regime business contacts.

Kelly attended the annual Young Leaders Forum, a five-day junket co-hosted by the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, which is “under the leadership of the Communist Party of China.” The conference allowed Kelly an opportunity to mingle with high-profile Communist Party officials and rising stars in Chinese society. Attendees included Cui Tiankai, now Chinese ambassador to the United States; Fang Xinghai, former director of the CCP’s top committee on the economy; and Zhou Mingwei, the party’s former top foreign propaganda official.

China analyst Gordon G. Chang said that party connections—such as those Kelly fostered—are “absolutely essential” for securing Chinese business deals.

“The Communist Party tries to control everything, whether it’s a state enterprise or a private company,” he said. “And so it’s extremely important to have Communist Party contacts [to do business].”

Kelly has also had extensive ties with China since becoming a civilian. World View Enterprise, an aerospace company he co-founded and in which he still holds investments, received funding from Chinese tech giant Tencent, which censors the internet for Beijing. As the Washington Free Beacon reported, he also held a financial stake in a Colorado company that courted investments from a Chinese state-funded tech enterprise.

He now has assets worth up to $27 million, according to his financial disclosure.

A Kelly campaign spokesman said that the former aviator’s participation was “coordinated by NASA,” but did not answer questions about whether the Democrat used any of the contacts he met on the YLF trip for his business ventures. Instead, the campaign said that prominent Republicans also participated in the campaign.

Kelly and Giffords told multiple media outlets that they met during the Young Leaders Forum, without mentioning the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs. The retreat took place in a luxury hotel in the scenic Chinese countryside, where attendees went on pleasure cruise rides in between their panel discussions. Kelly gave a one-hour speech about his space experience, while Giffords participated in a panel discussion with Chinese politicos.

Kelly would participate in the 2004 and 2005 conferences as well. He called the experience “one of the absolute highlights of my life, second only to flying in space,” and even took a Forum banner into space in 2006.[4]

References