Jan 12, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden inaugural returns cash from ex-senator-turned-foreign agent

Former California Sen. Barbara Boxer

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden’s inaugural committee will refund a donation from former Sen. Barbara Boxer after the California Democrat registered as a foreign agent for a Chinese surveillance firm accused of abetting the country’s mass internment of Uighur Muslims, officials tell Axios.

Why it matters: Boxer’s contribution was just $500, but the Biden team’s decision to return the money shows how the incoming administration will try to balance its sweeping ethics commitments with K Street efforts to enlist high-profile Democrats with an eye toward advancing clients' interests in Biden's Washington.

The big picture: Boxer, who served in the Senate from 1993 to 2017, will provide “strategic consulting services" to the Chinese surveillance firm Hikvision’s U.S. subsidiary, according to documents filed with the Justice Department by Mercury Public Affairs on Friday. Boxer co-chairs the firm’s Los Angeles office.

  • In 2019, the Trump administration barred Hikvision from doing business with American firms absent a U.S. government license, citing the parent company's alleged involvement in the repression of Muslim minorities in the Chinese region of Xinjiang.
  • Last year it accused Hikvision of ties to the Chinese military and prohibited U.S. investment in the company.
  • The state-owned China Electronics Technology Group is Hikvision's controlling stakeholder. Hikvision cameras have been installed at internment camps in Xinjiang, where more than 1 million Uighurs are estimated to have been imprisoned or subjected to forced labor.
  • Biden’s presidential campaign described China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims as “genocide” last year and said he "stands against it in the strongest terms."

In an emailed statement, Boxer told Axios: "When I am asked to provide strategic advice to help a company operate in a more responsible and humane manner consistent with U.S. law in spirit and letter, it is an opportunity to make things better while helping protect and create American jobs.”

  • Hikvision declined to comment.

Boxer’s disclosure paperwork, filed under the Foreign Agent Registration Act and first reported by the Daily Caller, also revealed her $500 donation to Biden’s inaugural committee late last month. A spokesperson for the committee told Axios that it will be refunding that contribution.

  • The spokesperson said the contribution violated the inaugural committee’s policy against accepting contributions from registered foreign agents.
  • Boxer’s donation was made of her own volition, and was not solicited by the inaugural committee, the spokesperson said.

Between the lines: Boxer’s registration suggests that Mercury is beefing up its Hikvision advocacy team with the goal of more effectively navigating the incoming Biden administration.

  • Boxer worked with Biden in the Senate for more than two decades, and effusively praised him during the 2020 presidential campaign.
  • She is the second former U.S. senator assigned to Mercury’s Hikvision account. The other is David Vitter, a Republican who represented Louisiana until 2017.

The policy stakes for Hikvision are immense. Vitter said in 2019 that the goal of his work for the company was “to make sure Hikvision survived in the United States."

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