House Republicans examine federal election funds awarded to Biden-linked firm

Greg Nash

Three House Republican leaders on Thursday raised questions about oversight of federal election funds awarded by California to a firm linked to now-President Biden in the months ahead of the election.

House Oversight and Reform Committee ranking member James Comer (R-Ky.), House Administration Committee ranking member Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) and Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s government affairs panel, sent a letter to Election Assistance Commission (EAC) Chairman Donald Palmer questioning EAC’s oversight of the funds, as part of a larger House investigation into the funding decision.

The California Secretary of State’s Office awarded $35 million to SKDK (formerly SKD Knickerbocker) for a voter education campaign last year. These funds were a portion of the $825 million in federal grant funds distributed by the EAC to states in the lead up to the 2020 elections. 

According to The Associated Press, SKDK at one point included a note on its website stating it was “proud to be a part of Team Biden,” and its managing director is a former senior strategist on the Biden campaign. 

Comer strongly criticized the EAC for its oversight of the funds in a statement provided to The Hill on Thursday. 

“We’ve uncovered a highly questionable contract awarded to a pro-Biden firm to contact voters,” Comer said.

“To date, the agency and its Inspector General have refused to take action. This raises serious concerns about additional, potentially uncovered, improper spending. Congress must hold the EAC accountable for the distribution of taxpayer dollars and ensure its procedures work in the best interest of the American people—that includes returning unused grant money to the Treasury,” he said.

The House Republicans accused the EAC of being unable to oversee the contract for $35 million, with the lawmakers raising concerns that the agency would have difficulty disbursing the $825 million appropriated by Congress to states to shore up elections over the course of 2020. 

They particularly pointed to concerns that the agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) had not yet requested records from California on how the funds were used.

“While it appears the EAC acted quickly and efficiently to disburse grant money, given the OIG’s inability to oversee a single contract worth $35 million, we are concerned about what policies and procedures EAC has in place to oversee the $825 million in grant money it awarded last year,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter to EAC.

“We are also interested in learning more about how the EAC plans to balance overseeing whether grant money was spent properly with ensuring that unspent funds are returned to the U.S. Treasury in a timely manner,” they added. 

The three Republican leaders asked the EAC to schedule a briefing no later than March 25 with Republican staff to discuss the funds.

The EAC did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment on the letter. 

The letter to the EAC comes months after Comer, Davis and Hice launched an investigation into the contract with SKDK, approved by former Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

The Los Angeles Times reported last month that California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) had signed into law legislation that allowed the state to pay SKDK with state and federal funds for launching a voter education campaign.

Republicans and other critics have harshly criticized the deal, according to the LA Times, primarily due to a smaller bidding pool for the contract, and the firm’s ties to the Biden campaign.

Hice criticized the EAC for not opening an investigation into the use of the election funds in California. 

Federal taxpayer dollars should be used in the interest of all Americans, not to benefit one candidate or political party over another,” Hice said in a separate statement. “Folks deserve to know why their hard-earned money was funneled into a California political operation firmly backing Joe Biden’s campaign.”

“We have been pushing for months to get the Elections Assistance Commission and the Inspector General to take this seriously, but they refuse to even open an investigation,” he added. “We will not allow this to be slipped under the rug.”

Tags Alex Padilla EAC Election Assistance Commission Election Security Gavin Newsom James Comer Jody Hice Joe Biden Rodney Davis SKDKnickerbocker

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