SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The California agency that oversees elections has signed a $35 million contract with a firm linked to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign to produce advertising to encourage voters to participate in the November election.
Under the contract, SKD Knickerbocker, a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs firm, will help run the “Vote Safe California” campaign, which will urge people to vote during the pandemic.
Anita Dunn, the firm’s managing director, is a senior strategist for Biden’s presidential campaign. The firm’s work for Biden is highlighted on its website, with a headline saying the company is “proud to be a part of Team Biden.”
The disclosure of the contract comes at a time when a national debate has been underway over the security of mail-in voting, even though voter fraud has proved exceedingly rare. “This $35 million expedited state contract screams conflict of interest,” Jessica Millan Patterson, chairwoman of the California Republican Party, said in a statement.
The Secretary of State’s Office, which awarded the contract, said politics played no role in what companies were considered, the finalists selected or the eventual decision.
“This is a nonpartisan effort” aimed at Republicans, Democrats, independents and other voters, said Paula Valle, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat who has endorsed Biden.
Valle said Padilla had no involvement with the contract or the review of contenders — the selection was made by a committee of senior staff members, including the agency’s chief counsel.
The contract, signed on Aug. 13, was first reported by the Sacramento Bee.
California plans to send every registered voter a mail-in ballot ahead of the Nov. 3 election and will still open in-person voting locations. The state has long used widespread mail-in voting, but Gov. Gavin Newsom chose to mail a ballot to every registered voter due to health concerns over the coronavirus.
Valle said the ad campaign will include television, digital, radio and billboards.
It’s intent is to remind voters that participating in an election during the pandemic is safe, simple and secure. As part of the contract, the firm will be responsible for messaging aimed at people voting by mail for the first time, and those who speak languages other than English.
“There is nothing partisan in that,” Valle said.
But Patterson faulted Padilla, saying he should “know better than allowing Team Biden to run California’s absentee and get-out-the-vote efforts.”
Heather Wilson, head of SKD Knickerbocker’s California office, told the Bee the Vote Safe campaign is nonpartisan, like much of the firm’s other work.