Comer, Davis, Hice Raise Concerns About Padilla Misusing Federal Funds to Benefit Pro-Biden Firm

Republicans urge Inspector General to provide immediate investigative update given potential Padilla appointment to the U.S. Senate

December 18, 2020

WASHINGTON—House Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member James Comer (R-Ky.), House Committee on Administration Ranking Member Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), and Government Operations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jody Hice (R-Ga.) today wrote Election Assistance Commission Inspector General Patricia Layfield to spur immediate action on the previously requested investigation into California Secretary of State Alex Padilla awarding a contract to Joe Biden’s main election campaign advisory firm, SKD Knickerbocker (SKD), to contact voters. This $35 million no-bid contract appears to violate the law, wastes taxpayer money, and presents numerous conflicts of interest.  

“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. 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. Secretary 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,” said House Committee on Oversight and Reform Ranking Member Comer.

In October, the lawmakers previously wrote to Inspector General Layfield calling for an investigation into this shady contract after obtaining documents showing potential violations of the law. They also wrote to Secretary Padilla in September but he has not provided a response to the letter. 

“Three weeks after Election Day, California had multiple congressional races that still had not been called because ballots were still being counted. This mismanagement could, and should, have been avoided,” said Davis. “California received millions of federal dollars to help run their elections, but these dollars clearly were not put to good use. We have an obligation to taxpayers to find out how these federal funds were spent and if it was in compliance with the law. It’s especially concerning that someone, like Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who has failed to follow federal laws, himself is now being considered for the U.S. Senate where he would help write the laws,” said Committee on House Administration Ranking Member Davis.

“I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Under no circumstances should federal taxpayer funds ever be used to explicitly benefit one political party over the other. The State of California awarded a $35 billion contract to SKD Knickerbocker, ostensibly for non-partisan voter registration, even as the firm was openly engaged in aiding Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. This is not simply highly irregular—it’s inexcusable and likely illegal. Inspector General Layfield must immediately investigate this contract and expose any unlawful actions committed by California’s elected officials. The American people are fed up with corruption disguised as government. We need answers,” said Government Operations Subcommittee Ranking Member Hice. 

The full letter is available here and below. 

 December 3, 2020

The Honorable Patricia Layfield 

Inspector General

U.S. Election Assistance Commission 

1335 East West Hwy, Suite 4300

Silver Spring, MD 20910


Dear Inspector General Layfield:

In light of 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 (SKD), Joe Biden’s main election campaign advisory firm. 

According to the New York Times, “Alex Padilla, California secretary of state, has emerged as the front-runner to succeed Kamala Harris.” Secretary Padilla reportedly provided California’s governor Gavin Newsom with an early endorsement during the 2018 election and “[n]ow Mr. Newsom is in a position to return the favor.” An appointment is expected to be made before January 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.

To our knowledge, your office has not yet began a formal investigation of the contract. We wrote to you on October 13, 2020 about the California Secretary of State’s Office use of Help America Vote Act (HAVA) grant money from the CARES Act to fund the voter contact contract with SKD. Documents provided to your office by Committee Republicans 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. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), HAVA grants cannot be used to get out the vote (GOTV) or to encourage voting. Further, 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 $35 million contract was apparently intended to provide a partisan firm the opportunity to use taxpayer money to influence the federal election. The $400 million supplemental appropriation funding, distributed by the EAC, was designed to provide states with additional resources to protect the 2020 election from the pandemic. As it stands, the Secretary’s decisions ensured no Californians benefited from this appropriation. 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. 

Please contact Committee staff at (202) 225-5074 to schedule this briefing by December 10, 2020. Thank you in advance for your cooperation with this matter.

The Committee on Oversight and Reform is the principal oversight committee of the U.S. House of Representatives and has broad authority to investigate “any matter” at “any time” under House Rule X. Thank you in advance for your cooperation with this inquiry.



James Comer, Ranking Member, House Committee on Oversight and Reform

Rodney Davis, Ranking Member, Committee on House Administration

Jody Hice, Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Government Operations