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Wilk’s legislation to add transparency to state contracting exposing pay-to-play fails

As part of his legislative package calling for accountability, transparency, and integrity in the state government’s procurement process, Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) announces that Senate Bill 1367 (SB 1367) failed to pass the Senate Governmental Organization Committee because the majority of Democrats refused to vote on it.

In 2020 alone, more than $220 million in behested payments were made on behalf of the governor. This bill would have addressed the perception of “pay-to-play” contracting decisions stemming from the governor’s penchant for awarding massive contracts to companies that make large donations on his behalf.

“Perception is reality. In this instance, there is a perception that no-bid contracts are awarded based on something other than merit,” said Wilk. “I am disappointed that the majority of the committee’s members do not share my concern about the perceived influence of donors in this administration’s procurement of costly no-bid contracts. They just sidelined a golden opportunity to restore the public’s confidence in government contracting.”

SB 1367 would have prohibited the governor from awarding a no-bid contract to a company that had recently made a behested payment on his behalf. Behested payments are requested by elected officials and made by donors to charitable organizations an elected official supports. There is no monetary limit for behested payments, and only donations of $5,000 or more are required to be reported to the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, state agencies have entered into nearly $12 billion in no-bid contracts for various pandemic-related goods or services. As reported by the Los Angeles Times in April 2021, behested payments surged to nearly $227 million in 2020 compared with 2019, when companies gifted $12.1 million on the governor’s behalf.

Senator Wilk’s Good Governance legislative package also includes:
SB 1271, which passed out of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee this week, would add accountability to the extension or renewal of no-bid contracts over $25 million by requiring state agencies to submit information on the terms and conditions of the contracts to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. The committee would then have the information necessary to conduct oversight hearings if needed before a contract is renewed or extended.

SB 947, which passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with unanimous support last week, expands state employee whistleblower protections to workers employed by companies that are awarded state contracts. The National Whistleblower Center testified in support of SB 947.

All three measures are supported by good governance organizations, including the California Clean Money Campaign and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, both of which testified in support of the measures during Tuesday’s hearing. In the coming weeks, SB 1271 and SB 947 will be referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which will consider their fiscal impact on the state.

Background:
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, state agencies have entered into nearly $12 billion in no-bid contracts for various pandemic-related goods or services. As reported by the Los Angeles Times in April 2021, behested payments surged to nearly $227 million in 2020 compared with 2019, when companies gifted $12.1 million on the governor’s behalf.

In addition, this comprehensive legislative package was in response to a variety of concerns, including the auto-renewal of an unprecedented $1.7 billion contract with PerkinElmer for the state’s much-maligned and dysfunctional COVID-19 testing lab known as the Valencia Branch Laboratory (VBL).

Senate Republicans’ relentless demand for accountability and transparency resulted in the Newsom administration ‘quietly’ notifying PerkinElmer that its contract was canceled, but only after the administration auto-renewed the contract in October amid Republican objections and calls for the release of an investigative report conducted by the administration on the troubling deficiencies at the state-funded COVID testing lab.

This article was released by the Office of Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk.