No Minister

Money. Wall. Pissing against.

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You may have thought that the current NZ Labour government was a shocker when it came to spending vast sums of money to no good effect, but as is often the case now, the US state of California leads the way.

As if the high taxes, poverty, filth, crime, killer fires, water problems and energy problems were not bad enough it appears that they can’t even run a basic book keeping process.

This is Betty Yee, and she is the “State Controller” of California, which means that she is the person responsible for:

  • “Accountability and disbursement of the state’s financial resources.”
  • “Auditing all funds disbursed by the state and all claims presented for payments to [her office.]”

Given that California is the world’s fifth largest economy, that is a hell of a lot of spending responsibility. Her office issued 49 million checks in payments worth $320 billion in 2018.

Being in a public office she’s also accountable directly to the public in terms of more than just votes, being required to produce information about all this spending, subject to the usual Official Information Requests that we see across the Western world. There’s always scrapping between such offices and the people demanding the information as to timely releases and so forth – no bureaucrat is ever keen on revealing everything to the proles – but by and large the process works.

So it was no surprise when some activist group called Open the Books (OTB), requested to see the line item details of all these payments, starting in 2013. The letter they finally got in 2019 surprised the hell out of them:

“The State of California, State Controller’s Office does not maintain a centralized vendor contract database which would allow it to identify all contracts regardless of the agency awarding such contract,”

That came from Yee’s general counsel Richard Chivaro, who went further:

“In fact, many state contracts are paid for directly by the contracting agency,” Chivaro continued. “This procedure allows the contracting agency to make such payments as expeditiously as possible thereby taking advantage of an early payment discount which may be available.” 

“Moreover, the Controller’s Office receives literally thousands of claims for payment daily. Claims are batched by date received and are not segregated, logged or otherwise tracked by agency employee or payment type. Consequently, because of the way the claims are batched and processed by this office, we are unable to locate or otherwise provide you with the documents requested,”

The fuck? In other words the Controller’s Office literally cannot answer the question of where all the money went in a $302 billion spending list. They simply do not and cannot know exactly who got the money because they just don’t bother tracking that level of detail.

Incredible. Almost beyond belief.

OTB is suing the state of California but frankly I don’t know how that can succeed: if the system doesn’t track this stuff at a line item level (or even a couple of levels up) then what’s the lawsuit going to produce? They have had to sue Illinois and Wyoming in the past to get such data, but they did get it in the end, and they did not need to take such action to get spending records from the other 47 states according to the OTB Chairman:

“We even get the checkbooks from the historically, systemically corrupt Port Authority of New York and New Jersey,” he said. “We do get the second set of books from there.” 

In some respects it’s hardly surprising given an earlier story that blew out of the same state a few months ago:

California Labor Secretary Julie Su told reporters in a conference call Monday that of the $114 billion the state has paid in unemployment claims during the coronavirus pandemic, 10 percent, or $11.4 billion, involves fraud and another 17 percent is under investigation. 

Nearly all of the fraudulent claims were paid through the federally supported Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. The program was approved by Congress to provide unemployment assistance to those who usually wouldn’t be eligible, such as independent contractors. 

The even got scammed by the usual suspects, criminal organisations from Russia and Nigeria, as well as 21,000 prisoners in the state who scored more than $400 million, including 100 prisoners on death row

I like to think the latter group really just did it for kicks, given that they’re not likely to be able to spend any of it.

Written by Tom Hunter

December 2, 2021 at 11:24 pm

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