Arizona Senate candidate’s representatives tried to hide his speaking fee at a public university

The amount Mark Kelly and his wife, former member of Congress Gabrielle Giffords, earned to speak at Youngstown State University is a “trade secret,” his representatives argued.

Mark Kelly onstage during MTV’s 2017 College Signing Day With Michelle Obama at the Public Theater on May 5, 2017, in New York City./Bryan Bedder / Getty Images

By Henry J. Gomez | BuzzFeed

Representatives for Mark Kelly, a top Democratic recruit for a competitive 2020 Senate seat in Arizona, recently asked a public university in Ohio not to disclose his speaking fee for a 2018 visit.

Youngstown State initially obliged, blacking out how much Kelly and his wife — Gabrielle Giffords, a former member of Congress and gun control advocate who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a 2011 shooting — commanded for their joint appearance, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The way Kelly’s team at a speakers agency handled the matter illustrates how paid speeches increasingly trip up political candidates, especially Democrats who run on progressive messages of economic equality. Hillary Clinton’s speaking fees dogged her in her 2016 run for president. Former vice president Joe Biden has come under fire for accepting $200,000 last year to speak at a Michigan event where he offered kind words about a Republican locked in a tough reelection race.

Kelly’s paid speeches are already an issue in his race. Last week, after questions from CNN, Kelly refunded $55,000 for a 2018 speech in the United Arab Emirates. And the Intercept, a news site active on the political left, has highlighted Kelly’s past speaking fees at corporate events, in the context of his pledge not to accept corporate PAC money for his campaign.

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