By Jon Coupal – March 2, 2021
Only in California. Sign a shady multimillion-dollar state contract with a politically connected consulting firm to do “voter outreach,” get sued over it and not only will your friends in Sacramento paper over it, but they will also appoint you to the United States Senate.
Or at least that is how it worked for Sen. Alex Padilla.
In this column last year, we told you about the attempt of then-Secretary of State Padilla to execute a $35 million contract with a political consulting firm, SKDKnickerbocker, whose website prominently stated that it was on “Team Biden.”
But the contract was fishy from the start. Not only did the secretary of state’s office not comply with the Public Contract Code, only a handful of partisan political consulting firms, rather than nonpartisan advertising agencies, were solicited to bid and, most importantly, the contract was not supported by any line item in the state budget.
Even the state controller’s office cried foul and rejected the contract. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association sued, media scrutiny followed, and Padilla and Gov. Gavin Newsom got egg on their faces just as Newsom was appointing Padilla to the U.S. Senate.
On a call with reporters in December to discuss Padilla’s promotion, the two were quick to downplay the contract.
“The Controller’s office, the Department of Finance — everyone is sharpening their pencils and working it out,” said Padilla.
“We’re working with legislative leadership and (the Department of) Finance and we’ll get that paid,” said Newsom.
Well, the fix is in and the governor and Democrats in the state Legislature intend to get SKDK paid even if it comes at the expense of the counties.
In last year’s budget, funds were allocated to help counties cover the costs of holding an election during a pandemic. But Assembly Bill 85, now being rushed through the state Legislature, retroactively changes the Budget Act of 2020 to allow over $35 million of that state and federal money to go to SKDK.
“Taxpayers should not have to pay for the shady deal that was executed by the previous secretary of state,” state Sens. Pat Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, and Jim Nielsen, R-Tehama, said in a statement. “We call on our legislative colleagues to side with Californians and use the much-needed money as intended to help counties, not pad the pockets of political operatives at a partisan firm for partisan purposes.”
Despite repeated claims that HJTA’s lawsuit was meritless, the introduction of AB85 is a clear admission by the Secretary of State’s Office that it never had the legal authority to spend $35 million in public funds for a partisan political contract that was never subject to competitive bid and was never supported by a line item in the budget bill. Sens. Bates and Nielsen are right in questioning why counties should be punished for Padilla’s sweetheart deal to a favored consultant.
But other important questions also remain unanswered by AB85.
Has the Controller indicated that this amendment is adequate? The use of federal money ($12 million) is still subject to federal laws that prohibit the use of federal funds for GOTV (get out the vote). The contract at issue specifically included GOTV services. How does this amendment cure that defect? The contract did not comply with the Public Contracts Code, how does this amendment cure that defect?
HJTA and investigative journalists will strive to get those questions answered as legality of AB 85 is being assessed. But one glaring question remains, why is the state Legislature working so hard to clean up Padilla’s mess anyway?
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.