Awarding a no-bid, $1 billion contract for KN95 masks to a Chinese manufacturer known for shoddy products during a crisis caused by the Chinese government doesn’t create the best optics for a governor, but hiding that contract from both legislators and the public is an even worse look.
As we reported weeks ago, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a $1 billion contract with Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer BYD for KN95 masks (the Chinese version of N95 masks) while the legislature was in recess. Under emergency legislation passed just before the Senate and Assembly went home to shelter in place in March, Newsom was given $1 billion total to spend on coronavirus-related items, but the legislature was supposed to be given 72 hours notice on expenditures by Newsom’s advisors. They were not given that heads-up on this contract and, even worse, Newsom wired $600 million to the company before the first mask arrived in California.
Legislators have requested details of the contract from Newsom’s office and from the California Office of Emergency Services, but Cal OES replied that if any details of the contract were to be made public now it could jeopardize the agreement.
The Los Angeles Times requested all documents related to the BYD contract the day after Newsom announced the contract on Rachel Maddow’s show and finally received a response denying the request. The reasoning is curious:
“Cal OES determined all responsive records are exempt from disclosure, including exemptions for records reflecting attorney work product, attorney-client privileged information, or other information exempt from disclosure under federal or state law,” Ryan Gronsky, an attorney with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, wrote in a letter to The Times.
“Publishing the agreement now — before performance under the contract is complete — would introduce substantial and unnecessary risk to the State’s ability to secure necessary supplies,” Gronsky wrote.
How are they exempt due to attorney work product and attorney-client privilege? That’s ludicrous. Something stinks here.
The first installment of masks arrived in Los Angeles last week, according to the Times, and Cal OES claims that more than 10 million masks have been received under the contract. None of the masks have been put to use in the field, though, because the masks have not yet passed safety approval from the feds. Whether the masks will actually pass safety approval is highly debatable, since millions of KN95 masks that were recently ordered by the Canadian government by an unnamed Chinese company were refused due to poor quality. If these masks are not certified safe to use, Gavin’s gonna have a whole lotta explainin’ to do.