Contracts reveal this county is paying millions to PR firms to guide coronavirus messaging

By Bradford Betz | Fox News

Los Angeles County has paid nearly $2 million to outside public relations firms for guidance on its messaging of the coronavirus pandemic – despite having a fully staffed communications team and cuts made to its police department, according to a Thursday report.

Documents obtained exclusively by Fox 11 show that L.A. county gave PR firms Mercury Public Affairs and Fraser Communications $200,000 contracts each without competitive bidding in April to deliver “COVID-19 Emergency Communications Support.”

A hearse leads a ceremonial burial procession Monday, June 8, 2020, in Los Angeles during a protest over the death of George Floyd, who died May 25 after he was restrained by Minneapolis police. (AP)

Additional documents obtained by the station show that L.A. County has renewed the contracts and increased the pay.

Per the contracts, Mercury Public Affairs will be paid $1.2 million for its consulting through October 21, and Fraser Communications will be paid $700,000 for its consulting until the end of June, Fox 11 reported.

About one-third of the county’s funds to Mercury Public Affairs is required to go to “Multicultural and Ethnic Outreach and Communications.”

Campaign finance reports cited by Fox 11 show that Fabian Nunez, a consultant at Mercury and former state assemblyman, donated to L.A. County Supervisor Board Chair Kathryn Barger’s campaign one month before the no-bid contract was approved.

Barger told Fox 11 that the donation was public information and did not influence the county’s decision to award Mercury the contract.

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L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has called the Board hypocrites for hiring outside PR firms after asking him to cut $500 million from his department.

“When I’m picking and choosing who I’m going to lay off and they’re just throwing money at PR firms, and they’re sitting on 49 public information officers, I mean they have a platoon of people that do this, yet they hire outside, I don’t get it,” Villanueva said.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger justified the hiring, telling Fox 11 the county’s diversity necessitated a broader communications strategy.

“[O]ur communications must reflect our diversity in language, socio-economic status, and access to information,” she said. “While the County’s response to COVID-19 utilized the skill sets of communication professionals across every department, it was imperative to bring in additional resources to augment our communications given the enormous impact this virus has put on the millions of residents, business and organizations throughout the County.”Bradford Betz is an editor for Fox News.

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