WASHINGTON – Committee on House Administration Ranking Member Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member James Comer (R-Ky.), and Government Operations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jody Hice (R-Ga.) yesterday launched an investigation into a $35 million contract the California Secretary of State’s office awarded to a pro-Biden consulting firm to produce advertising to encourage voter participation in the November election.
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Republicans investigate California mail-vote contract that went to ‘Team Biden’ firm
By Lara Korte | September 16, 2020
Congressional Republicans say they are launching an investigation into a $35 million contract that the California Secretary of State’s Office awarded to a firm with ties to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.
As reported in The Sacramento Bee last month, Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office awarded the contract for a voter education and outreach campaign to the firm SKD Knickerbocker, which touts itself as being proud to be a part of “Team Biden” on its website.
According to the state agency, SKD Knickerbocker, whose clients have included many high-ranking Democrats, was chosen from a pool of three finalists through an expedited emergency bid process. The firm is now tasked with running “Vote Safe California,” a state information campaign to encourage voting by mail and inform Californians about changes to Election Day due to the coronavirus.
In a letter to Secretary of State Alex Padilla on Wednesday, three house Republicans said there are “serious questions” about how the contract was awarded and possible conflicts of interest.
“Being awarded a $35 million contract to contact voters using taxpayer money while publicly advertising its work on behalf of Joe Biden’s campaign for president and employing a senior advisor to his campaign essentially provides a pro-Biden entity the opportunity to conduct get out the vote efforts,” the letter says. In February, Biden named Anita Dunn as a senior adviser to his campaign. Dunn, a managing director at SKD Knickerbocker, is a longtime Democratic strategist.
“Unfortunately, this voter contact operation is being funded by taxpayers,” the letter said.
The letter also takes issue with the fact that the office awarded the contract outside of the typical process, which can take three to six months. The Secretary of State’s office told The Bee last month that the contract was expedited because of how close the election is and the urgency of the message.
“Without transparency in the contracting process, political bias rather than price likely influenced the award,” the members of Congress said.
The letter was signed by U.S. Rep. James Comer, ranking Republican member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, U.S. Rep Rodney Davis, ranking Republican in the House Committee on Administration, and Jody Hice, ranking Republican on the House Subcommittee on Government operations.
The letter also cites a recent Reuters report, which said Microsoft Corp has alerted SKD Knickerbocker that it is the target of Russian state-backed hackers. The hacking group, known as “Fancy Bear,” is the same set of spies blamed by the federal government for leaking Hillary Clinton’s emails. According to Reuters, a person familiar with the firm’s response said the hacking attempts were unsuccessful.
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SKD Knickerbocker, the firm awarded the multi-million-dollar contract to develop the “Vote Safe California” campaign and whose managing director is a senior strategist for the Biden presidential campaign, prominently boasts that it is “part of Team Biden” on its homepage. Concerns have also been raised because the method used to award the contract did not follow the traditional process and was expedited. It remains unclear whether SKD Knickerbocker will have access to sensitive voter information, potentially allowing them to target individual voters who will likely be in possession of general election ballots. Additionally, foreign actors are reportedly attempting to hack SKD Knickerbocker. raising serious concerns about whether any data related to voter information is being targeted.
The Republican members call on California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to produce all documents and information about how SKD Knickerbocker was selected, whether the firm has access to California voter information, any recusals to ensure Team Biden employees are not involved with the campaign, all proposals for the contract that were submitted, and the attempted cyberattack.
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