How Many Recall Elections Can You Fund With $32 Billion? Asking for Gavin Newsom.

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-UnpaidPropertyTaxes), finally realizing that the current recall effort has legs, opened a campaign committee Monday, launched a website opposing the recall, and had a slew of nationally prominent Democrats tweet the site out along with his preferred messaging – that the recall is powered by anti-science, racist, Q-Anon believing Trump supporters who want to stop his success in fighting COVID, and that the state can’t afford a recall election.

In his tweet, which went up first, Newsom simply cast the recall as being “partisan” and “Republican,” saying that he won’t be distracted from meeting the moment.

In retweets, though, his supporters started the “don’t waste taxpayer dollars” theme.

One problem: As Newsom crowed in his State of the State speech, and as he told the ladies of “The View” Tuesday, the state has a budget surplus.

If that’s true, why isn’t it being immediately directed to this dire emergency your supporters claim the state has?

How much will a recall election cost? According to Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), $100 million.

California Assemblywoman Luz Rivas claims it would be $81 million, a number also mentioned in an opinion piece published by The Hill on Sunday. (Coincidental timing, no?)

No matter which number is closer to the truth, that’s a lot of money. It pales in comparison to what Gavin Newsom’s incompetence has cost the state, though. Final numbers won’t be available probably for years, but the state has lost between $11 and $31 billion in unemployment fraud in 2020 alone. (They’ve confirmed the $11 billion number, but are investigating $19 billion more. As of now.)

Then we have Gavin’s Chinese mask fiasco. As we reported nearly a year ago, Newsom entered into a no-bid $1 billion contract for KN95 masks from a Chinese manufacturer with known quality control issues, BYD. A senior BYD executive in California, where the company builds defect-riddled electric buses for public transportation agencies, contributed $40,000 to Newsom’s campaign. As it turns out, the company wasn’t able to deliver the 200 million masks a month it promised (shocking!) and missed NIOSH certification deadlines. Newsom refused to take advantage of that contract breach to drive down the price; instead, he still paid the $3.30/mask price in the contract at a time when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was purchasing masks from Honeywell for $0.79/each.

Breaking out the handy-dandy calculator, Newsom overpaid by $2.51/mask. Going by the numbers in belatedly-provided public records, California was set to purchase 300 million KN95 masks from BYD. Newsom wasted more than $750,000,000 (that’s $750 million) in taxpayer dollars in that transaction. Heck, that pays for at least 7.5 recall elections.

Back to that unemployment fraud. This explainer from Cal Matters is a great refresher for those who haven’t been able to stay up-to-date on the story. It’s also important nationally because Julie Su, who led the agency for the past few years, is being considered for a top post by the Biden administration. (Sigh.)

So far, the state has confirmed around $11 billion in unemployment fraud — the vast majority involving the less-rigorous federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program — with another $19 billion under investigation. That brings the potential total to around $31 billion, or more than the state spends each year on housing, transportation, higher education and environmental protection.

Fraud investigations are ongoing, but cases detailed so far involve a mix of old-school tactics like fraudulently filing for benefits in someone else’s name, the state’s own failure to cross-check unemployment applications with prison rolls, fraudulent charges on unemployment debit cards, and global hacking rings that flooded states across the country with forged applications.

Law enforcement officials emphasize connections to organized crime, drug trafficking and weapons offenses, but recent state audits and cybersecurity experts stress that much of the fraud could have been relatively easily prevented by better vetting applications.

Since the data is so much more impactful visually, here is a chart Cal Matters created to describe the varying types and amounts of fraud at California’s Employment Development Department.

Even more maddening for California voters is the fact that there are thousands of unemployed people who still haven’t received EDD benefits since the start of the pandemic. The agency has been blasted in numerous audit reports over systemic failures and a complete lack of accountability in handling those failures – and even today the agency is failing to investigate fraud. According to a January 2021 audit, the agency tasked only two staffers – TWO – with investigating fraud. One San Francisco couple has been trying to reach an investigator for months to return $25,000 in benefits that they received without applying for – a fraudster stole the husband’s identity, applied, and received benefits – to no avail. Here’s an idea for Gov. Newsom: Some of that record surplus should be used to fix the EDD. STAT.

In just those two examples we’ve identified approximately $32 billion in fraud losses. Going with the higher estimated recall election cost of $100 million, the state could pay for 320 statewide recall elections with the taxpayer funds Gavin Newsom lost through his incompetence.

There’s definitely an argument to be made that recalling Gavin Newsom, even if it costs the taxpayers $100 million, is a wise investment, a bargain compared to what his continued “service” will cost them.

(The answer: California can pay for 329.5 recall elections with $32 billion.)