EDITORIAL: To keep his promise, Obama must return these donations

December 12, 2013 

President Barack Obama


he Foreign Agent Registration Act, approved in 1938 to limit the influence of Nazi agents leading up to World War II, is hardly obscure.

But the consulting firm California Strategies evidently was confused by the act's requirements in 2008 when partner Jason Kinney took as a client an Arab sheik who hoped to gain power in the United Arab Emirates monarchy of Ras al-Khaimah.

California Strategies registered as an agent for Sheik Khalid bin Saqr Al Qasimi in October 2008. But Kinney failed to properly register as a foreign agent until June 2009, as The Sacramento Bee's Laurel Rosenhall reported in a tale of political intrigue on Sunday.

California Strategies, which has 10 offices in the state, proclaims on its website: "Our broad range of experience and expertise throughout the firm allows for the creation of strategic teams to address even the most complex issues." That expertise evidently doesn't extend to proper registration.

In September, the Fair Political Practices Commission imposed combined fines of $40,500 on the firm, Kinney and two other partners for failing to register as California lobbyists. The charitable explanation is that the firm has been sloppy. Less charitably, some people in the firm may think they are above the law. They're not.

The sheik, who may have had more money than sense, paid the firm $3.08 million hoping for introductions to U.S. officials so he could gain power back home.

Kinney traveled with his wife, Mary Kinney, to Washington to attend President Barack Obama's inaugural in January 2009, after she donated $50,000 to attend.

A California Strategies partner and an associate gave $50,000 each on the same day in December 2008 that Mrs. Kinney gave her donation.

The sheik paid for billboards to congratulate the new president, and boasted on his blog that he was there when Obama took the oath of office.

The contract ended in 2010, after news filtered out of Ras al-Khaimah that the sheik was under house arrest.

Obama came to office promising he would not do business as usual. To drive home that point, he rejected donations from lobbyists and registered foreign agents.

Obama's aides couldn't have known they were violating their boss's dictates by taking $158,000 from California Strategies-related sources. But if Obama is true to his policy, he should return that money or give it to charity.


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