"State officials struggling to convince critics about the safety of aerial spraying to control an invasive moth awarded a $500,000 no-bid contract to a prominent public relations firm with ties to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger," reports Associated Press. The contract, with the Porter Novelli firm, was suspended after AP began investigating it. California's agriculture department "invoked emergency powers to award the contract without competition." Upon review, a state lawyer questioned why the department "could not get bids or go through [a national competitive bidding] process." The Porter Novelli deal included subcontracting work for Jeff Randle, "a frequent campaign and political adviser to Schwarzenegger." California began the spraying last year, to fight a moth species unintentionally imported from Australia. After spraying two counties, "more than 600 people complained of health problems." A University of California report suggests the moths "can be kept in check by natural predators" instead. The Porter Novelli contract involved holding focus groups and designing advertisements "to counter the concerns raised by local environmentalists and residents."
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