Feinstein's husband influenced UC admissions in 'problematic' way, state auditor confirms

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), right, smiles next to husband Richard Blum at an election night event in San Francisco, Nov. 6, 2018. | AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

OAKLAND — The husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) inappropriately influenced a University of California admissions decision as a longtime UC regent, the California State Auditor’s office said Thursday.

The revelation stemmed from a critical report by Auditor Elaine Howle, which this week found that over a six-year period, UC “campuses inappropriately admitted 64 wealthy and well-connected students as favors to donors, family, and friends,” while denying more qualified applicants.

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A Wednesday audit said that one unidentified regent inappropriately sent a letter on behalf of a less qualified applicant; the auditor’s office confirmed Thursday to POLITICO that it was Richard Blum, an investment banker married to Feinstein who has served on the UC Board of Regents since 2002.

Blum told the San Francisco Chronicle he believed he did nothing wrong and had been writing letters of recommendation on behalf of friends and family’s children for years.

“I did it a bunch of times,” Blum said. “Usually friends. My cousin’s brother wanted to get into Davis. They’d send me a letter and tell me why it’s a good kid, and I’ll send it on to the chancellor. Been doing it forever.”

Based on the audit, Blum sent an “inappropriate letter of support” to the UC Berkeley chancellor for a student with only a 26 percent chance of winning a spot off the waitlist — and that the applicant was later admitted. The audit deemed that action “particularly problematic.”

A state policy specifies that regents of the University of California “should not seek to influence inappropriately the outcome of admissions decisions beyond sending letters of recommendation, where appropriate, through the regular admissions process and officers.”

The auditor took issue with Blum’s letter because it went to the chancellor outside the regular process and was then routed through the development office. “Given the low likelihood of this applicant’s admission and the prominent and influential role that Regents have within the university, we conclude that the decision to admit this applicant was likely influenced by the Regent’s advocacy,” the audit said.

Feinstein’s office declined to comment.

According to the audit, one of the state’s most selective campuses, UC Berkeley, admitted 42 applicants “through its regular admissions process based on connections to staff, leadership, and donors.” The audit determined those applicants “were not as qualified as others who were not admitted,” according to the report.

In addition, “campus staff falsely designated 22 applicants as student-athlete recruits because of donations from or as favors to well-connected families,” according to the report.

The review was requested by state lawmakers last year after a national college admissions bribery scandal implicated a University of California, Los Angeles soccer coach, among other officials at a host of prestigious schools across the country.

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