Kelly delivered the speech along with her twin brother and fellow astronaut Scott Kelly as part of a lecture series sponsored by Crown Prince Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Kelly is now a democratic candidate in the 2020 US Senate race for the seat of Republican since Martha McSally in Arizona. Kelly has pledged to refuse donations from corporate action committees and to fight big money on policies as cornerstones in the early days of her campaign. The appearance could open Kelly to criticize the foreign influence now that he is running for the Senate.
CNN's KFile, who reviewed Kelly's time at the paid chat, came to Kelly's campaign last year to ask about his appearance in the UAE. An assistant to Kelly's Senate Campaign said he received a $ 55,000 fee from his speaker office, Keppler Speakers, who booked the look and paid Kelly through a consulting company. Aide said Kelly decided to return the money this week to Keppler Speakers.
In a statement to CNN, Kelly's campaign advocate, Jacob Peters, said, "Like many other former astronauts, Mark has spoken to a variety of groups about his experience in space, the United States Navy and how he and his wife, former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, worked together to overcome the tragedy. This commitment focused entirely on Mark sharing his experience in space and discussing our country's space programs. "
The paid chat is not unusual in politics. But there have been some controversies about the nature of some speeches, with critics and ethics officials charging the speeches being used to control influence. Hillary Clinton was criticized by the political left during the 2016 Democratic President's primary and then by Republicans during the election for paid company speeches and foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation.
Kelly's speech was delivered as part of a lecture series sponsored by the Crown Prince, who is also the chief executive of the UAE military. In this situation, he has also played a leading role in the Saudi Arabian led coalition in Yemen, which has been accused of committing war crimes against civilians. Both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have denied claims.
Kelly is not alone in speaking to the lecture series. Others include former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Bill and Melinda Gates, founder of Microsoft and his wife co-chairing the world's largest private charity.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to properly reflect that it was Scott Kelly who tweeted about a meal with the Crown Prince.