Governor Newsom’s Dubious Mask Deal Brings Corruption Concerns

Written by Michael Palomba 

Gov. Gavin Newsom made a $1.4 billion deal with BYD, a Chinese company, to produce N-95 masks. What’s weird about this situation is that BYD is an electric bus maker with no history of making masks. What’s even weirder is that the masks never came to fruition because they failed to meet national safety and health standards.

The story begins in March with a different company. A deal was made with Blue Frame Medical LLC, a recently formed company made up of political consultants looking to cash in on the pandemic. Newsom facilitated a $456.9 million transaction with the company, wiring the funds in exchange for millions of masks. However, shortly after the transfer was initiated, the State Controller’s office got a call from the bank, notifying them that the account they were transferring to was opened just one day before. 

The state immediately requested its money back and began its search for a new company to produce masks. In April, a deal was struck with BYD, but the contract was kept hidden from legislators and the media.

The California Globe has found “a trail of well-connected players” involved in the $1.4 billion mask deal. 

These players include:

  • Mark Weideman: a prominent lobbyist who represents BYD. BYD’s automotive division contributed $40,000 to Newsom’s campaign
  • Mark Weideman’s wife, Jennifer Wada: their marriage is not common knowledge even to many Sacramento insiders. Wada currently owns a government relations business
  • Anthony Williams: prior to that owning a government relations business, Wada and a man named Anthony Williams were partners in a law firm: Wada, Williams Law Group. Anthony Williams is now Gov. Newsom’s Legislative Affairs Secretary.

There are also links to Tom Steyer, the failed presidential candidate who also happens to be Newsom’s Economic Recovery Committee Chairman.

According to California Globe, a source said the governor was able to pivot so quickly from the bad Blue Flame Medical deal to BYD because of the connections between Weideman, Wada, and Williams.

California Globe sent an email to Weideman in an attempt to get to the bottom of all this, here is the response they received:

“Newsom and his aides singled out BYD-America, which manufactures electric buses in Lancaster and has been a beneficiary of California’s efforts to combat climate change,” CalMatters reported in April. “Mark Ghilarducci, Newsom’s director of the Office of Emergency Services, said BYD has a direct reachback into China to be able to build a sustainable amount of monthly masks that will be coming in to assist us.”

It seems like something is not right here. Why are all of these well-connected players involved? How was a decision made to source ventilators from a company that was only days old? And how did the governor pivot to a new company—that has no business making masks—so quickly?

We may be able to answer these questions if the details were not being hidden from the public. It appears that someone doesn’t want these details publicized, and that is all the more reason why they should be. These are our tax dollars being played with, and if they are being used incorrectly, we must find out and hold people accountable.


Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr