Former astronaut running for Senate in Arizona returns money from paid speech in UAE

A spokesman for Mark Kelly (D), a former astronaut running for Senate in Arizona, said Friday that he has returned tens of thousands of dollars he made last year from a paid speech in the United Arab Emirates.

His spokesman told CNN that Kelly, who is aiming to become the Democrat challenging Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyGOP Senate campaign arm hits battleground-state Dems over 'Medicare for All,' Green New Deal Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing MORE (R) in Arizona, returned $55,000 he received for giving a speech last year at an event hosted by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of the UAE.

Kelly's spokesman told the news network that the money was paid to Kelly through the speakers' bureau that employed him at the time, Keppler Speakers.

The event, which was also attended by Kelly's twin brother who is also an astronaut, focused on the UAE's space program, which partners with NASA on some projects.

The June 2018 event was reportedly promoted by the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, according to CNN.

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"Like many other former astronauts, Mark has given speeches to a variety of groups about his experiences in space, the United States Navy, and how he and [his wife, former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords (D)] worked together to overcome tragedy," a spokesperson told CNN.

"This engagement was focused entirely on Mark sharing his experiences in space and discussing our countries' space programs," Kelly's representative added.

The Kelly campaign did not immediately reply to a request for comment from The Hill.

Accepting money for the speech did not violate any laws, but could be seen as a liability for Kelly's Senate campaign as he has pledged not to accept donations from corporate PACs and has campaigned against the influence of foreign and domestic money in politics.

The UAE's government has faced criticism from international human rights advocates over its treatment of dissidents and earlier this year was found to have used more than a dozen former U.S. intelligence operatives to spy on the phone activity of activists and critics of the government.

McSally, who lost a bid for the Senate seat now held by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) last year, was later appointed by Gov. Doug Ducey (R) to the the seat formerly held by the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainWhy did Mueller allow his investigation to continue for two years? If you don't think illegal immigrants are voting for president, think again 10 factors making Russia election interference the most enduring scandal of the Obama era MORE (R-Ariz.).