EXCLUSIVE: Republicans on the House Oversight and House Administration Committees are demanding answers from California Secretary of State Alex Padilla about a “highly questionable” $35 million contract his office awarded to a firm linked to the Biden campaign, claiming it was a “misuse of taxpayer money and a violation of the law.”
Padilla’s office, according to House Oversight Committee Ranking Member James Comer, R-Ky., Administration Committee Ranking Member Rodney Davis, R-Ill., and Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., allegedly used Help America Vote Act (HAVA) grant money from the coronavirus stimulus package, known as the CARES Act, to fund a voter contract with SKD Knickerbocker— a public affairs and political consulting firm the Republican lawmakers described as “Joe Biden’s main election campaign advisory firm.”
“In light of recent media reports that California Secretary of State Alex Padilla is now the front-runner to be appointed to California’s open United States Senate seat, we are writing to request a member-level briefing on the status of your review of the highly questionable $35 million contract for voter contact the California Secretary of State’s Office awarded to SKD Knickerbocker, Joe Biden’s main election campaign advisory firm,” Comer, Davis, and Nice wrote in a letter, exclusively obtained by Fox News, to the inspector general for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Padilla has emerged the frontrunner to be appointed to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ Senate seat. Comer, Davis and Hice noted that an appointment to Harris’ seat is expected to be made before Jan. 20, 2021.
“Because Secretary Padilla may become a member of the United States Senate in a matter of days or weeks, it is critical that he provide answers about his decision to award a contract to a partisan firm that appears to be both a misuse of taxpayer money and a violation of the law,” they wrote.
The Republican lawmakers wrote that they provided documents to the office of the inspector general which “appear to show that the California Secretary of State’s Office planned to use HAVA money for voter contact.”
“As you know, the use of HAVA funds for voter contact is a violation of the law,” they wrote. “According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, HAVA grants cannot be used to get out the vote or encourage voting.”
They added that the CARES Act “is very specific about the use of these funds, which must be used to ‘prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally, for the 2020 Federal election cycle.”
The lawmakers claimed that the $35 million contract was “apparently intended to provide a partisan firm the opportunity to use taxpayer money to influence the federal election.”
The Sacramento Bee, first reported on the contract, which was awarded on Aug. 13 after an “expedited approval process.”
SKD Knickerbocker employs a number of former Obama communications officials and others who have worked with Democrats in the past.
On the firm’s website, it states: “Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and all of our clients who fought for the soul of the nation….Thank you.”
The firm’s website also lists its “2020 Clients,” which include Biden for President and other Democratic candidates for public office.
Biden senior campaign adviser Anita Dunn is a partner and founding member of SKD Knickerbocker. She returned to the firm after Election Day.
“Before Secretary Padilla has the opportunity to become a member of the United States Senate entrusted with upholding the integrity of all federal elections and safeguarding taxpayer money, the American people deserve to know whether he has misused federal funds to benefit political allies.”
“Since your office is charged with rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in EAC programs, your office is critical in determining whether the contract awarded to SKD violated the law by using HAVA grant money,” they wrote.
The Republican lawmakers demanded that the inspector general “schedule this briefing by December 10, 2020.”
“Secretary Padilla’s decision to fast-track a no-bid contract to a pro-Biden firm raises serious ethical and legal questions and we must have answers immediately,” Comer said in a statement to Fox News. “It appears taxpayer funds were illegally allocated by Padilla’s office to enable Democrat operatives to contact voters and potentially have access to sensitive voter information.”
Comer added that Padilla “must be held accountable for this gross misuse of Americans’ taxpayer dollars.”
“Given Mr. Padilla is rumored to be appointed to Senator Kamala Harris’ seat, the Inspector General must immediately investigate and report findings to Congress before he is entrusted with upholding the integrity of all federal elections and safeguarding taxpayer dollars,” he said.
Neither Padilla’s office nor SKD Knickerbocker immediately responded to Fox News’ request for comment.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to appoint someone to Harris' Senate seat before Inauguration Day, and Padilla has emerged as a frontrunner.
Fox News has learned that other potential picks include California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Rep. Karen Bass, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and Rep. Katie Porter.
Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.