Before his 2009 inauguration, newly elected President Barack Obama made a public pledge not to accept money for the celebration from representatives of foreign interests.
That didn’t stop a top partner at California Strategies, one of Sacramento’s premier public affairs firms, and his wife from donating big dollars. The firm had taken an exiled Arab sheik on as a client just before the 2008 election and registered with the federal government as a foreign agent, designating partner Jason Kinney as the one in charge of a publicity campaign on the sheik’s behalf.
But Kinney himself did not register as required, and within months he and his wife gave $52,000 for the inauguration, according to data tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C. In total, the records show, two California Strategies partners, one associate and one spouse gave a combined $158,000 to the committee planning Obama’s inaugural festivities.
Over the next two years [2008-2010], Sheik Khalid, through California Strategies, spent $3.08 million on the campaign, including payments to lobbyists, advertisers, bloggers, photographers and highly connected Democratic consultants. His message appeared on billboards in Washington, D.C., on bus ads in New York City and on a Twitter feed, where the sheik described meetings with former Vice President Al Gore and retired Army General Wesley Clark. The sheik was welcomed with a special message on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ scoreboard.
The firm dispensed gifts from the sheik – described in federal filings as maps of the Middle East – to more than a dozen officials, including California Gov. Jerry Brown, Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
The strategy also included hiring former New York Times reporter Michael Janofsky to write a blog in the sheik’s voice. After 24 years with the newspaper, Janofsky was launching a career as a freelance writer. He said a political consultant working for the sheik – whom he declined to identify – connected him to the $5,000-a-month job.
The campaign appears to have been ineffective. Today, the sheik’s half-brother, Sheik Saud, is the ruler of Ras al-Khaimah, according to the emirate’s official website. The status of Sheik Khalid is unclear. The United Arab Emirates Embassy in Washington did not respond to The Sacramento Bee’s question about him, and his former attorney in England did not answer The Sacramento Bee’s email. His blogs and Twitter account are inactive.