Los Angeles County used millions in federal coronavirus relief dollars, meant to help struggling Californians stay afloat during extended, pandemic related economic lockdowns, to fund no-bid contracts with two public relations agencies who recruited “celebrity influencers” to help “spread coronavirus messaging on social media.”
A local media investigation revealed that “Los Angeles County has extended agreements with two PR firms hired to guide the county’s COVID-19 messaging and is using federal CARES Act money to offset part of the cost of their contracts, which now total $2.9 million.”
The contracts, Fox 11 notes, were no-bid and were first inked back in early 2020, around the time the coronavirus pandemic began. The county has since extended those contracts, at a significant cost to federal taxpayers, even though the county already has a “fully staffed” communications department that is likely capable of handling the increased workload associated with passing along the county’s coronavirus information.
There’s one thing the county can’t do, though, that the two PR firms can: hire celebrities to help convince the public of the importance of coronavirus abatement measures: “Part of the PR firms’ duties included ‘recruiting celebrity influencers’ to help with coronavirus messaging on social media.”
A spokesperson for the county defended the expense.
“Expanded activities include responding to hundreds of requests each week from media partners, creating and disseminating new culturally and linguistically appropriate educational materials daily through various communications channels, and participating in dozens of briefings each week to provide information and respond to concerns,” they told Fox Business.
Unsurprisingly, Fox Business also reports that the firms associated with the contracts have ties to former California legislators, possibly making it much easier for the firms to win the no-bid contracts paid for with CARES Act funds.
California government entities have been in the spotlight recently for COVID-related financial issues. In addition to the contract expenditures in Los Angeles County, California, as a whole, may have wasted millions — if not billions — in taxpayer funds designed to help those experiencing unemployment during the pandemic. As The Daily Wire reported last week, errors and scams led the state to pay out unemployment to thousands of prison inmates, including dozens on death row.
A group of California attorneys investigating the misappropriation of unemployment funds told the Los Angeles Times that the incident could be “the most significant fraud on taxpayer funds in California history.”
“Nine district attorneys across California and a federal prosecutor on Tuesday made these allegations and called for Gov. Gavin Newsom to intervene to stop such unemployment swindling in California jails and prisons,” the outlet reported, adding that much of the money was lost to “fraud that involves identity theft of prisoners as well as alleged scams by individual inmates and organized gangs to game the state system.”
Across the state, financial watchdogs are gearing up for major investigations. Back in August, a state auditor noted that California could not be trusted with the additional relief money provided by the Federal government and that teams of investigators would be auditing 18 separate state agencies most at risk for misusing money.