2020 Election

California Gave $35 Million ‘Voter Outreach’ Contract to ‘Team Biden’ Firm

Firm handling coronavirus contract has received $2.1 million from Biden since 2019

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A consulting firm run by a top Biden campaign official is receiving $35 million from California for a voter outreach program linked to the state's coronavirus response.

The state awarded Democratic public relations giant SKDKnickerbocker the lucrative deal as part of the state's "Vote Safe California" program on Aug. 13. The program aims to "educate the public on the safety, security, and ease of voting in the November General Election amid the COVID-19 pandemic" and was launched following Democratic governor Gavin Newsom's May decision to send every registered voter in the state a mail-in ballot. The $35 million comes in addition to the $2.1 million SKDK has collected from the Biden campaign since June 2019.

According to documents obtained by the Sacramento Bee, the contract asks SKDK to give "special attention" to "reaching first-time mail voters," as well as those with language barriers. The state's contract approval process was expedited for the November election.

SKDK has close ties to former president Barack Obama and Democratic nominee Joe Biden. The firm's managing director, Anita Dunn, previously served as Obama's White House communications director and is now leading Biden's presidential campaign. SKDK's political consulting webpage says it is "proud to be a part of Team Biden" and touts previous campaign work with former president Bill Clinton, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, and disgraced former congresswoman Katie Hill (D., Calif.), among other Democrats.

In addition, SKDK has advocated for police reform and expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The firm on Thursday accused President Donald Trump of "telling white Americans they should be afraid of Black and brown Americans," adding that recent police shootings are "a direct result of 400 years of systemic racism in America and the last four years of Donald Trump's failed leadership in the White House." SKDK is also working as a "pro-bono PR firm" for Friday's March on Washington led by Rev. Al Sharpton. The firm described the protest as "counter-programming to the angry and hate-filled RNC Convention" in a Thursday statement.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation, an election integrity watchdog group, argued that California's local election authorities, not SKDK, should be spearheading the outreach campaign.

"Voter education and outreach are core jobs of local governments in the lead-up to an election," spokesman Logan Churchwell told the Washington Free Beacon. "This is an admission on the part of California to not have the bandwidth to perform these sovereign duties."

The California secretary of state's office addressed concerns over SKDK's partisan ties by telling the Sacramento Bee that those working on the contract "both on the firm side and the government side" are "nonpartisan and do not have ties to specific politicians." Chief communications officer Paula Valle did not respond to a Free Beacon inquiry asking who is leading the campaign, nor did SKDK.

This is not the first time that a Democratic governor has awarded taxpayer-funded contracts to a campaign vendor. Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, a onetime vice presidential hopeful, gave Democratic data giant NGP VAN and another campaign firm lucrative contracts for coronavirus contact tracing. Michigan rescinded the deal after the Free Beacon exposed the ties between Whitmer's election campaign and the firms.

While California's presidential race is unlikely to be competitive, there are a number of hotly contested congressional districts in the state that could determine control of the House. According to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, two California legislators currently occupy "toss-up" seats—Reps. Mike Garcia (R.) and T.J. Cox (D.).