California Gov. Gavin Newsoms administration rejected a public records request from a major newspaper to reveal the specifics of his nearly $1 billion deal to receive 200 million masks per month from a Chinese manufacturer.
In a letter dated Monday to the Los Angeles Times, the Governors Office of Emergency Services stated that the states contract with Chinese electric car manufacturer BYD does not have to be made public.
Cal OES determined all responsive records are exempt from disclosure, including exemptions for records reflecting attorney work product, attorney-client privileged information, or other information exempt from disclosure under federal or state law, Ryan Gronsky, an attorney with the OES, wrote in a letter to The Times.
BYD which stands for Build Your Dreams inked a deal with California in early April, and neither side has offered further details since.
The company was formed in 1995 as a battery manufacturer. In 2008, Warren Buffetts Berkshire Hathaway purchased a 24.8% stake in the company.
Since then, it has grown into one of the largest electric car makers and partnered with Toyota in November to launch a joint venture into electric car batteries.
The Buffett-backed company also operates a US subsidiary in Lancaster, California, which employs about 1,000 people, according to the Times.
Despite its growth under Buffett, the company announced it saw a 42% drop in profits from 2019, citing the coronavirus pandemic, cuts to government subsidies and changes to emissions rules in China.
Around the same time, the company said on its website that it had converted one of its manufacturing facilities into the worlds largest mass-produced face masks plant, adding that it would make 5 million masks per day in the fight against the spread of the virus.
Pressed by reporters last month about withholding details of the contract, Newsom maintained scant specifics.
Im for outcome here. Some are consumed by process, personality, intrigue. Whos up, whos down. We are for actually solving a major, major problem not only for the state but potentially a template for the country, he said.
The California Senate and Assembly have also been kept in the dark about the deal, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
It would be great to get a heads-up directly from the governors office rather than watching it on national TV, Assembly Budget Committee Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) said in an interview last month with the Chronicle.
We dont have any information as to how many masks were buying, who were buying them from, at what price & What are we obligated? For how long are we obligated?
Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) sent a letter to the Newsom administration requesting full details, including quality standards and price per mask.
Under normal circumstances, the Legislature would have had more time to deliberate an expenditure of this magnitude and would have been allowed to thoroughly vet the details of the contract before proceeding, Mitchell wrote.