Federal audits revealed problems with 20% of Election Assistance Commission grants for the 2020 voting assistance to states during a pandemic. The CARES Act was a COVID-19 relief package, with Congress approving $400 million in grants to the EAC. Only $326 million has been accounted for since then.
House GOP members raised concerns about election grants for a California expenditure, with Rep. James Comer, the ranking member on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, concerned about the problem running deeper. Comer stated that there is a high potential for abuse. The EAC was supposed to be a watchdog but it turned out to be a bad actor spending large sums without much transparency.
The audit revealed that the EAC allowed states the ability to create 60 additional spending categories to spend the money instead of limiting expenditures to the five allocated categories.
The GAO report states that GAO discovered issues in how the EAC and states classified expenditures involving almost 20 percent of total reported spending nationwide. The EAC’s annual report on grant expenditures to Congress shows that states’ expenditures for similar items or activities can be included under multiple categories. This makes it difficult to determine how grants were spent by states.
GOP House members became first concerned about the way the CARES Act money was being spent due to a $35M contract between California’s Secretary of State and SKDKnickerbocker. This was a Dem political consultancy firm that was also working for Joe Biden’s presidential campaigns. California spent $12 million on EAC money to fund the contract used in “Vote safe California”.
Comer stated that California engaged in microtargeting voters when it contracted with SKDKnickerbocker. Comer stated that the sheer amount of money is almost certain to indicate similar problems in other states.
GAO cannot issue subpoenas or otherwise compel information release. It has not identified issues in other states. Interviews with EAC officials were used as the basis for the audit, along with a review of public records.