NEWS & ANALYSIS

CALIFORNIA CRUMBLES: Controller Can't Find the Cash


Betty Yee is California state controller, meaning she is tasked with “accountability and disbursement of the state’s financial resources.” As California is the state with the fifth-largest economy in the entire world, this is a hefty responsibility. 

But what happens if the person in charge of the funds loses them? Let’s take a look.

Yee’s office issued a whopping 49 million checks in payments worth $320 billion in 2018. The state’s 2020 budget was $208.9 billion, but Yee’s office payments often cover multi-year obligations. 

She is also “responsible for auditing all funds disbursed by the state and all claims presented for payments to [her office.]” 

Because of her job’s responsibilities, Open the Books Chairman Adam Andrzejewski may be forgiven for being “mystified by the California State Controller’s claim to be ‘unable to locate or otherwise provide’ documentation of those large payments,” the Epoch Times reports. 

“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,” Yee’s general counsel Richard Chivaro told Andrzejewski’s group in a November 2019 letter. 

The letter came in response to requests by Open the Books beginning in 2013. 

Open the Books sought documentation – a “line-by-line state checkbook” – of California’s massive state government spending. 

“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,” he added. 

Thus, Open the Books is suing. 

“Despite repeated attempts to obtain an adequate response from the Controller, Plaintiffs have instead faced at various points delay, silence, obfuscation, and inadequate justification for the agency’s refusal to provide a reasoned determination and responsive records,” the organization told the court. 

“Plaintiffs first filed a CPRA request for state checkbook data in 2013 – over six years ago – but, to date and after repeated requests, the Controller has failed to disclose any relevant records.” 

“COVID slowed our suit down, but we’re pushing for summary judgement now because we think we will win,” Andrzejewski told the Epoch Times. “We always knew California would be a dogfight.”

“We’ve sued two other states, we expect to win in California, and we’re undefeated in these suits,” he added. 

Open the Books also sued Illinois and Wyoming, but required no litigation to get spending records from the other 47 states. 

“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.” 

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