While millions of Californians are wondering just how they’re going to feed their families, Gov. Gavin Newsom has been up in Sacramento spending like a drunken sailor.
On March 16 the legislature “passed measures giving the state broad authority to spend up to $1 billion ‘for any purpose’ related to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s declaration of the coronavirus emergency” then turned around and adjourned for a month. Newsom’s burned through that and is now requesting $6 billion more from the legislature.
This should not surprise anyone.
To their credit, a bipartisan coalition of legislators are saying, “Whoa, Nellie,” and are demanding details about Newsom’s expenditures and the ability to provide more review and oversight.
The deal that’s facing the most scrutiny is Newsom’s nearly $1 billion agreement with a Chinese company to provide the state with 200 million masks a month. (For reference, 3M manufactures 100 million N95 masks a month.)
On April 7 Newsom crowed about the deal and his negotiating prowess during an appearance on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show but wouldn’t name the company with which he contracted. He said they were a “manufacturer here in the State of California,” but left out a few details.
NEWS: Gov. Gavin Newsom: California has inked deal for 200 million masks (150 million N95, 50 million surgical) per month, enough to meet state's needs and potentially export to other states pic.twitter.com/mmMRZYOrLq
— Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) April 8, 2020
Newsom didn’t mention the name of the company, Build Your Dreams (BYD), and that the company is based in Shenzhen, China. The electric vehicle manufacturer has a subsidiary in Lancaster, California, where it employs 1,000 people.
Newsom also didn’t mention that the masks would be manufactured in China (at an automotive plant that was repurposed to manufacture masks when the coronavirus was ravaging Wuhan) instead of at BYD’s California location, or that his campaign had received $40,000 from the president of BYD’s automotive division.
Another fairly large detail that Newsom left unsaid is that BYD has a long track record of providing American transit districts (including the City of Los Angeles) with crappy products, namely battery-powered buses that would stall when going uphill, whose rear doors would open while the bus was in motion, had faulty brakes, contained cracked and rusty parts, and more.
Because of this track record Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), the state’s former Lieutenant Governor, “helped draft legislation late last year that bans federal funds from being used to buy BYD electric buses effective immediately in Washington, D.C., and starting in 2022 for the rest of the country,” or, in other words, blacklisting them from some federal contracts, according to VICE News. Newsom left out this tidbit as well.
When a reporter informed Garamendi that BYD had received expedited FDA approval to import masks, Garamendi replied:
“What the hell? What is our government doing?” he said. “They may very well flood the market with substandard devices and people will be relying on them as though they are of satisfactory quality, and that is bizarre.
As of April 18 Newsom’s administration hadn’t provided the Joint Legislative Budget Committee with information about the contract, quality control, fulfillment, and more, requested by Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-CA), Committee Chair. Newsom was defensive when asked by a reporter about withholding information about the contract:
“I’m for outcome here. Some are consumed by process, personality, intrigue. Who’s up, who’s down. We are for actually solving a major, major problem — not only for the state but potentially a template for the country.”
Lawmakers say that since the administration is asking for “expedited approval to spend money” but isn’t forthcoming with the details, that’s a no-go. Asm. Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), a member of the Assembly Budget Committee, told the San Francisco Chronicle he shouldn’t be learning about such a large expenditure on MSNBC:
“It would be great to get a heads-up directly from the governor’s office rather than watching it on national TV. We don’t have any information as to how many masks we’re buying, who we’re buying them from, at what price … What are we obligated? For how long are we obligated?”
Additionally, according to VICE News, BYD has strong connections to the Chinese Communist Party and is potentially involved in utilizing slave labor to manufacture its products.
California’s manufacturers are suffering, and some have repurposed their factories to manufacture necessary masks to protect the state’s first responders. Companies based in California and whose manufacturing facilities employ Californians should have had right of first refusal on these contracts.
(NOTE: This article has been updated to correct a typographical error in the amount of campaign contributions received by Newsom from a BYD executive. The correct amount is $40,000.)