Gavin Newsom is about to close the loop on one of the most corrupt episodes in California history.
It started with the 2020 election. Secretary of State Alex Padilla signed a $35 million no-bid contract for “voter education” ads promoting mail-in voting. He gave the “emergency” contract to SKD Knickerbocker, a partisan PR firm that worked for the Biden Campaign and Democrats running for Congress.
This was so blatantly illegal that State Controller Betty Yee, herself a statewide elected Democrat, blew the whistle and stopped payment. Yet the ads were still made and aired. The Sacramento Bee called it a “questionable politicization of the voting process,” concluding that the “partisan-tinged scandal” had “tarnished our election system.”
In any world in which two plus two equals four, Padilla would have had to resign. As it happens, he did resign – but only because his pal Gavin Newsom offered a promotion, appointing him to replace Kamala Harris in the U.S. Senate.
So Padilla escaped to the Senate, washing his hands of the Knickerbocker problem and showing once again that corruption is the way to climb the political ladder in California. But the State was still on the hook for the $35 million in work performed. We couldn’t let those political consultants starve.
Enter AB 85. In a bill the Assembly will likely pass today, Newsom and the Legislature’s leaders have conspired to pay off Knickerbocker with taxpayer funds by authorizing the contract retroactively. You are probably thinking anything this corrupt has to be illegal. It turns out, it is illegal.
The California Constitution, Article IV section 17, provides that “the Legislature has no power” to pay for a contract “made without authority of law.” The purpose of the provision is to prevent exactly what happened here: a corrupt state official giving a contract to cronies and then guilting the Legislature into paying so the State doesn’t look like a deadbeat.
I’ve just put out a release explaining this to Newsom and the Legislature. With a court challenge all but certain, I would not advise the Knickerbocker team to start making reservations at the French Laundry just yet.
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