By Marie Edinger
FRESNO, Calif. (FOX26) — A Government spending watchdog has just made a momentous breakthrough.
Open the Books has been working tirelessly to disclose details on California’s government spending. The nonprofit says California lacks a central database to track spending, and that some documents about payments are kept only on paper, not online. California is the only state that couldn’t provide transparent information about its spending to the public, Open the Books CEO Adam Andrzejewski said.
“We captured nearly every dime taxed and spent at every level of government across America, but California’s state government, they were the holdout,” said Adnrzejewski. “We had 49 out of 50 state checkbooks; we had the federal checkbook all the way back to 2001. But it was a knock-down, drag-out battle over the last decade to open the books on California’s line-by-line state expenditures, and today I’m proud to make the historic announcement: the books are open in the state of California.”
Open The Books filed 47,000 Freedom of Information Act requests in 2021 alone. 442 of those were in California. The nonprofit says it took a subpoena, a court case, and 450 separate requests to learn the line-by-line spending from California.
“Is the spending in the public interest, or the special interest?” Andrzejewski set out to find.
The nonprofit has some criticisms of how the state is spending its money. One issue they raised was that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation received $436,336 in state payments, though they didn’t specify how that money was spent. FOX26 reached out to that charity organization to learn more about the payments.
"Over the course of 2019-2021, the Gates Foundation made two grants to the University of California Berkeley to support a research project. The lead researcher on this work transitioned to a different university during the grant term. Following transfer of the grant agreement to the researcher’s new university, the unspent grant funds were returned to us and transferred to ensure the continuity and completion of the project."
"The Tides Center, with $126 million in net assets, received nearly $4 million which included $50,000 to its sister organization Tides Advocacy, a 501(c)4 organization, that wants to defund the police and supports organizations 'doing critical work against state terror,'" the nonprofit alleges.
Andrzejewski also accused Jennifer Newsom, the Governor's wife, of "buying clout."
“You’ve got some of the largest corporations in California that have a virtual marketplace monopoly – for instance in the fields of telecom or healthcare or energy utilities, and those companies are also some of the largest four and five-figure donors to the Governor’s wife’s public charity.”
Open the Books also takes issue with prominent law firms getting paid by the state, despite the California Attorney General’s office having 1,100 of its own lawyers. Some law firms were paid millions – Open the Books learned Munger, Tolles & Olsen LLP got $3.4 million from the state, Loeb & Loeb LLP got $2.8 million, Musick Peeler got $1.7 million, and Reed Smith LLP got $1.6 million.
The nonprofit also found that state agencies contracted with Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestle for beverages, even though those companies don’t line up with California’s pledges toward harmful plastics.