Republicans on the House Oversight Committee are digging into the origins of the $35 million contract that California’s secretary of state awarded to a public relations firm known to do consulting work for Joe Biden’s campaign. SKDKnickerbocker (SKDK), which was recently in the news because it works for Team Biden and was targeted by Russian hackers, is now the target of Republican lawmakers who say there are “serious questions about how the contract was awarded.”
The Wednesday letter addressed to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) notably relied heavily on media reports—even raising concerns that the reported Russian hacking attempt could mean voter information is at risk. SKDK was awarded a contract in August to run the “Vote Safe California” campaign, which Padilla’s office has billed as a campaign to “educate the public on the safety, security, and ease of voting in the November General Election amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Reps. James Comer (R-Ky.), Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), and Jody Hice (R-Ga.) see something untoward about a pro-Biden firm winning a contract funded by taxpayers to “influence the federal election.”
“The Committee on Oversight and Reform is conducting oversight of a $35 million contract the California Secretary of State’s office awarded to a pro-Biden consulting firm, SKD Knickerbocker, to ‘produce advertising to encourage voters to participate in the November election,’” the letter began. “This contract will undoubtedly provide a partisan firm the opportunity to use taxpayer money to influence the federal election.”
“Additionally, there are serious questions about how the contract was awarded, whether the firm will have access to sensitive voter information, and if any of the firm’s employees affiliated with ‘Team Biden’ will be involved with the project,” the GOP lawmakers continued. They said the arrangement—styled as the product of a rushed backroom deal—created an obvious conflict of interest.
“Moreover, the firm’s managing director is a senior strategist for Biden’s campaign. Media reports even describe the firm as ‘Joe Biden’s main election campaign advisory firms,’” the letter went on. “This is clearly a conflict of interest.”
Then the Republican representatives on the Committee said they were concerned about both Russian interference in the election and whether the Biden campaign would be able access to voter information obtained by SKDK through the “Vote Safe California” campaign:
Republicans on the Committee are committed to ensuring the integrity of the 2020 election. Awarding taxpayer money to a partisan firm with the potential to influence an election after the contractor has publicly advertised its work on behalf of a political candidate in that same election is a conflict of interest. Moreover, awarding a contract to a firm outside of the traditional contract process undermines the integrity of California’s federal election because it raises serious concerns about how this particular firm was chosen, what kind of voter information may become available to the firm, and whether any voter information is being targeted by hackers.
The Committee members set a Sept. 23 document production deadline in an attempt to: discover how the contract was awarded; learn whether SKDK employees working on the Biden campaign will recuse themselves from working on the “Vote Safe California” campaign; obtain a copy of all contract bids to run the campaign, presumably in an effort to find out whether the bid was rigged; get information on any foreign hacking attempts on SKDK networks; confirm whether or not voter information was targeted in hacking attempts.
Law&Crime reached out to SKDK for comment on the investigation and will update this story if we receive one.
[Image ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images]
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