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House Republicans investigating California secretary of state's contract with Biden-linked firm

House Republicans investigating California secretary of state's contract with Biden-linked firm
© Greg Nash

House Republicans are launching a probe into a $35 million contract the California secretary of state’s office awarded to an advisory firm that is working with Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Biden says staff has spoken with Fauci: 'He's been very, very helpful' MORE's campaign. 

In a letter sent to California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) on Wednesday, the GOP lawmakers argued the contract with SKDKnickerbocker for a voter outreach campaign is a conflict of interest due to the firm’s ties to Biden, adding that it runs the risk of using taxpayer funds to promote Democrats in the upcoming 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,’ ” House Oversight and Reform Committee ranking member James ComerJames (Jamie) R. ComerBiden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' in new administration Hillicon Valley: Department of Justice sues Google | House Republicans push for tech bias hearing | Biden drawing more Twitter engagement for first time House Republicans push VA for details on recent data breach MORE (R-Ky.), Oversight Subcommittee on Government Operations ranking member Jody HiceJody Brownlow HiceHillicon Valley: Department of Justice sues Google | House Republicans push for tech bias hearing | Biden drawing more Twitter engagement for first time House Republicans push VA for details on recent data breach IRS closes in on final phase of challenging tax season MORE (R-Ga.) and House Administration Committee ranking member Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisGOP Rep. Dan Newhouse tests positive for COVID-19 Colorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter tests positive for coronavirus Biden's gain is Democratic baseball's loss with Cedric Richmond MORE (R-Ill.) wrote.

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“This contract will undoubtedly provide a partisan firm the opportunity to use taxpayer money to influence the federal election.”

The lawmakers raised concerns about whether the firm will have “access to sensitive voter information" and whether any of the consultants on the Biden campaign will also be working on the project, noting the firm’s managing director is a senior strategist for Biden’s campaign. They also questioned why other firms that don’t have political ties to a candidate weren’t selected for the contract.

“A review of websites of the other two contract finalists shows that neither company appears to have listed publicly any 2020 election political candidate clients. This raises questions about why the contract was awarded to a firm that has such an obvious interest in the outcome of the federal election,” they wrote.

“In fact, 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. Unfortunately, this voter contact operation is being funded by taxpayers.”

The group also took aim at the process by which the contract was awarded, arguing it “ ‘did not follow a traditional schedule’ and was awarded on an ‘expedited’ basis,” alleging that having a firm connected with Biden could allow the former vice president's campaign to target certain voters.

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“According to the Sacramento Bee reporting, a group of six people in your office huddled together to determine the winning bid. Without transparency in the contracting process, political bias rather than price likely influenced the award,” their letter states.

“This comes at a time when every registered voter in California will be mailed a ballot for the November 2020 election -- a state with documented instances of voter fraud," the GOP lawmakers added.

"With regard to the ‘Vote Safe California’ contract, it remains unclear whether SKD Knickerbocker will have access to sensitive voter information, including voter contact information, potentially allowing them to target individual voters who will likely be in possession of general election ballots.”

The group noted recent reports that Russian state hackers are suspected of attempting to gain access to SKDKnickerbocker’s network, arguing voter information data could be at risk of being targeted.

“Further, foreign actors are reportedly attempting to hack SKDKnickerbocker. According to Reuters, these hacking attempts include phishing, a method used to ‘trick users into disclosing passwords,’ ” they wrote.

“The reporting states that 'one of the sources familiar with the incident said it was not clear whether Biden’s campaign was the target or whether the hackers were attempting to gain access to information about other SKD clients.' ”

The lawmakers are calling for the California secretary of state's office to provide documents related to how the firm was selected, “information relating to SKD Knickerbocker having access to California voter information, including ballot tracking data from the ‘Where’s My Ballot Program’ or any other ballot tracking tools," documents on written recusals the firm provided to their office to ensure those working with the Biden campaign aren’t involved in the project, copies of proposals submitted for the “Vote Safe California” contract, and all documents related to information on any hacking attempts.

The lawmakers also called for a staff briefing on the matter by Sept. 25.