Assembly members objecting to corruption exemption in AB 173

May 16, 2013

By Katy Grimes


SACRAMENTO — A corruption exemption remains in Assembly Bill 173, by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego. But calls I made to all the members of the Accountability and Administrative Review committee, which had reviewed the bill, indicated resistance by some Assembly members.

As I wrote earlier this week, the bill would increase the amount of money California’s public universities and colleges could spend without adhering to the state-required competitive bidding process. Weber also amended the bill to exempt state employees from felony charges of corruption under the public contract code.

The amendment was added to the bill after it had already gone through the Accountability and Administrative Review committee. This should be a no-no because doing so circumvented vetting by the committee. 

Calling committee members

Since my first article, I called each of the committee members and asked if they would vote in favor of the bill if it made it to the floor of the Assembly, even with the amendment. Most said they would not. Several said they would have to talk with the author. A couple of the committee members did not call me back.  The committee chairman, Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, had the committee consultant call me back. “Almost all of the amendments were cost-driven,” Bill Herms said in a voice mail message to me. “They are  looking to bring down the costs of the bill.”

I also called Weber, the bill’s author, to ask why the amendment was made, what was the purpose, and why it was put into the bill long after the policy committee heard and approved the bill.

I did not hear back from her office before my original story was published on Monday. On Tuesday, her office called to tell me a quote they had sent me in an email bounced back. They asked for my correct email. I gave it and waited. Still no email, or response. And even when they had me on the phone asking for my email address, her office did not answer any of my questions.

Appropriations Committee

At the Assembly Appropriations Committee Wednesday, Weber’s AB 173 once again was heard. Fortunately this time, Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, asked Weber about the amendment, and why it was made. Before Harkey could even complete her question, Weber interjected that she was removing the amendment. “We were asked to include it, as a request,” Weber told the Committee. “It is going to be eliminated.”

But Weber did not say who asked her to put the amendment in AB 173 which would have exempted state college and university employees from corruption prosecution under the California Public Contracts Code.

I called Weber’s office again to ask who requested the Amendment, but was told no one was available to take my call; nor was my phone call returned.

The newest version of AB 173 still includes the corruption exemption for state employees.

Wednesday, Weber made the bill sound as if its purpose was to support small business and disabled veterans.

A new bill analysis, published by the Appropriations Committee May 15, explained the fiscal effect:

“To the extent UC, CSU, and community college campuses use this authority, contract costs could increase if only two small businesses or two DVBEs were solicited rather than allowing all potential vendors to competitively bid on the contracts. Any additional costs should be largely offset due to administrative cost savings in soliciting quotations rather than preparing bid documents, advertising for bids, and receiving, evaluating and awarding competitive bids on relatively small contracts.”

(The new analysis so far only is available here, and is not found on the Assembly website)

Corruption potential

Allowing state employees to no-bid public contracts up to $250,000 is rife with opportunities for corruption, cronyism, favoritism and malfeasance; $250,000 is a significant amount of money. Ten $25,000 cars could be purchased for $250,000. Fifty small printing jobs could be bought for $250,000. A great deal of travel could be bought for $250,000.

But amazingly, there is nothing in the newest analysis about exempting UC or CSU employees from charges of corruption should the “bidding on relatively small contracts” go really wrong, or should real corruption take place.

The state is hardly transparent when it comes to monitoring state agency contracts.

California received an “F” grade when it comes to government spending transparency, according to “Following the Money 2013: How the States Rank on Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data,” the fourth annual report of its kind by the CALPIRG Education Fund.

Recently, the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation gave California a “D” grade on its transparency report card on how it made legislative information available to the public.

Demonstrating how he feels about transparency, Gov. Jerry Brown shut down California’s old transparency website in 2011. Information on state contracts is now managed by the Department of General Services eProcurement branch in a fox-guarding-the-henhouse scenario.

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