Alex Padilla’s $35 million convoluted contract invites lawsuit

Jon Coupal
President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Examples of how California’s one-party rule has us sliding ever closer to third world status become more frequent with every passing week.

From a governor who issues a sweeping executive order banning gasoline powered vehicles to record levels of poverty and rampant homelessness, it is now difficult to distinguish much of California from Venezuela.

One-party rule is also associated with corruption. Under normal circumstances, when government enters into contracts for goods and services with the private sector, taxpayers are protected against waste and fraud by a stringent oversight process mandated by state law. This includes a transparent bidding process to prevent cronyism.

There are exceptions to normal bidding procedures in the event of an emergency.

But exceptions for emergencies are an open invitation to waste taxpayer dollars.

In a high visibility debacle at the beginning of the pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom attempted to execute a $450 million contract for personal protective equipment (PPE) with a company that had only been in existence for a few hours.

Fortunately, that deal collapsed when the company’s own bank raised concerns about the financing and its ability to actually deliver the equipment.

Another example of a third world contracting scandal was only recently uncovered, involving the attempt of California’s Secretary of State to execute a $35 million contract with a political consulting firm, SKDKnickerbocker, whose website prominently states that it is on “Team Biden.”

Indeed, one of its principals is a spokesperson for the “Biden for President” campaign. In its written proposal, it identifies the individuals that will work on the project, all of whom prominently note their personal connection to Democratic politics.

While the contract was ostensibly for “voter outreach” and public education, giving a partisan political consulting firm the responsibility to increase voter turnout using taxpayer dollars creates a clear conflict of interest. By focusing (i.e. “targeting”) the voter outreach, a political consulting firm can and will necessarily affect voter turnout of certain types of voters more than others and in some parts of the state more than others.

This can and will affect the outcomes of elections – indeed, that is what targeted “get out the vote” is intended to achieve.

The contract is fraught with other problems as well.

Only a limited number of firms were approached to “bid” on the advertising contract and the “invitation” was directed only at partisan political consulting firms rather than traditional non-partisan advertising agencies.  This process did not comply with the Public Contract Code as the required public notice was not provided.

Completing the trifecta of government contracting malfeasance, the contract was unsupported by any line item in the state budget. In fact, the State Controller’s office rejected the contract, saying the Secretary of State had not identified any budget authority to spend local assistance funds on its contract with consulting firm SKDKnickerbocker, as the office has claimed. But the Secretary of State has not been responsive to inquiries regarding his intentions about further spending on the invalid contract.

For that reason, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed a lawsuit against him. The lawsuit seeks an injunction against any further spending that has not been approved by the State Controller.

California may be starting to resemble a third world country. But that doesn’t mean that citizens who remember how good California used to be have to put up with it.

Originally published in the Press-Enterprise

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