Financial interests run phantom campaigns in San Jose mayoral race

Campaign mail sent to voters in San Jose says mayoral candidate Cindy Chavez “has a history of scandals, corruption and dishonest deals behind the scenes.” Another states that his opponent, Matt Mahan, said he believed in the “accountability” of the National Rifle Association, just months after a gun massacre.

Chavez, a Santa Clara County supervisor, and Mahan, a San Jose city councilman, both said the campaign plays targeting them were unfair. But it was not the candidates who were responsible for the senders.

As the two politicians face off in the Nov. 8 election that will decide who will run the Bay Area’s largest city, wealthy interests are campaigning alongside Chavez and Mahan through independent political committees, who are not bound by spending limits like candidates. , and produce some of the most biting negative attacks.

Those interests include business advocacy groups and real estate developers, labor unions and even the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers, which play at Levi’s Stadium in nearby Santa Clara. Incumbent Mayor Sam Liccardo, who supports Mahan, has created a group that supports him, while Liccardo’s close friend and political supporter, former Silicon Valley Leadership Group chairman Carl Guardino, is behind a group supporting Chavez.

Two San Jose mayoral candidates, Matt Mahan, left, and Cindy Chavez appear to be breaking away from the pack, racking up endorsements and financial contributions from some of the region’s most powerful players.

Analysis by the Bay Area News Group shows that the Chavez and Mahan campaigns have together raised nearly $3 million so far. But their combined special interest supporters have separately put what is believed to be a record $3.8 million into the race, either through independent spending committees formed to spend exclusively on this race, or from general political action committees that serve companies or labor organizations.

“He’s already broken spending records,” said Garrick Percival, a political science professor at San Jose State University. “Independent spending is playing a growing role in campaign spending and we’re seeing it at all levels of government.”

Citizens United v. FEC of the United States Supreme Court in 2010 ruled that free speech rights allow corporations or unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertising, without government restriction, so long as they do not coordinate with a candidate or a political party. The decision effectively triggered campaign spending outside of official campaigns, where in San Jose, contributions to mayoral candidates are limited to $1,400 per election.

Mahan, a first councilman representing the city’s southwest District 10, has so far raised nearly $1.6 million for his campaign, slightly more than the $1.4 million that Chavez, who served as a downtown district councilor and vice mayor from 1999 to 2006, collected.

Outside groups supporting Mahan threw an additional $772,525 into the race on his behalf. They understand:

  • The California Real Estate Independent Expenditure Committee, representing the California Association of Realtors, spent $515,525.
  • Common Good Silicon Valley, the group originally formed by incumbent Mayor Liccardo and now led by his chief of staff, Jim Reed, has injected an additional $165,000. His main backers include real estate firm Legacy Partners, where Mahan’s uncle Ed Thrift was an executive.
  • Silicon Valley Biz PAC launched $92,000.

Outside groups supporting Chavez have thrown $3 million into the race on his behalf. They understand:

  • Citizens for Cindy Chavez Mayor 2022, formed by the 49ers and its owners, raised $763,464.
  • Better Way San Jose Supporting Chavez for Mayor 2022, formed by the city’s police union, raised $640,157.
  • San Jose Together Supporting Cindy Chavez for Mayor 2022, formed by Guardino, raised $499,500 from developers, executives, unions and others.
  • Neighbors Together Supporting Cindy Chavez for Mayor 2022, raised $273,000 from unions, a construction executive, a surety company and others.
  • Neighbors for a Diverse Community Supporting Cindy Chavez for Mayor 2022 raised $75,000 from State Assemblyman Evan Low, an Asian Pacific Islander leadership group and a labor union of nurses.

In addition, the South Bay Labor Council AFL-CIO political committee, which Chavez once led, spent $732,569 on his mayoral bid, and the city’s firefighters union political committee donated $61,431. additional on his behalf.

A graph showing how much money is spent in the race for mayor of San Jose.

The considerable support from outside groups has prompted questions, including during a debate last week. Asked about the 49ers’ substantial support for her, Chavez said she “wouldn’t have run again if I hadn’t had a large chunk of the community backing me up.”

She added: “I have been in public service for a long time, and you would be hard pressed to find that my decisions have been influenced by the outside resources I have received.”

Mahan said his campaign was “much more popular” and that “the majority of the special interest money went to my opponent.” He said interests like the 49ers don’t invest “more than $700,000 in a politician” like Chavez “without expecting something in return.” As for those who support him, he added that “the system is broken – if I had what it took there would be no outside expense, but at the end of the day it’s a decision of the Supreme Court”.

The groups behind these campaigns are not required to explain their interest in the race. Rahul Chandhok, the 49ers communications chief who leads the Citizens for Cindy Chavez committee, said in a statement in April that the team was impressed with the supervisor’s “exemplary leadership during the pandemic,” calling her “a contributor to the launch of California’s largest vaccination site at Levi’s”. Stadium last year. Chandhok said in an email that the 49ers weren’t paid for using their stadium for vaccinations, but declined to elaborate on the earlier statement.

Asked about his group’s support for Chavez, Guardino said he was impressed with his work to help push through affordable housing and public transit bonds he pushed for.

“There is no one more gifted with having a big, ambitious vision, which includes the components necessary to achieve that vision and has the ability to bring together diverse voices to achieve that goal,” Guardino said. He added that when it comes to his relationship with Mayor Liccardo, “different views on politics and politics will never stand in the way of our friendship.”

Often it’s the outside bands that make some of the most impactful campaign pieces. In a race centered on approaches to reducing crime and homelessness, outdoor ads drew on candidates’ pasts to launch character attacks.

The real estate group that supports Mahan sent the letter accusing Chavez of “corruption and dishonest deals behind the scenes”.

It was in reference to a 2006 scandal that consumed former mayor Ron Gonzales during his senior year when he was charged with secretly brokering an $11 million deal with a waste hauling company to cover the costs of a better paid union contract. Chavez, vice mayor and candidate to succeed Gonzales at the time, testified along with other council members before the grand jury.

A judge later dismissed the indictment, citing prosecutorial errors in the grand jury instructions, and the district attorney’s office dropped the case. Chavez was never charged, but because she was vice mayor, scandal tarnished her first bid for mayor in 2006, which she lost to Gonzales critic Chuck Reed.

Chavez said the real estate group behind the ads had used ‘any means necessary, including outright lying, to support council member Mahan’, and assumed he was opposed to her because she had supported a moratorium on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gina Zari, director of government affairs for the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors, said the ads raise legitimate questions about what Chavez knew about the deal given his position and said his group s objected to Chavez because she was insensitive to their efforts to meet her. , which Chavez disputes.

The PAC Labor Council was behind the ads that blamed Mahan for activating the NRA, but Chavez said that was entirely fair. The ads reference Mahan’s role as a tech entrepreneur leading Brigade, a company since acquired by Pinterest and Countable that provided an open platform for policy advocacy.

“As a businessman, he tried to get the NRA to use his platform to be more effective, and I think enabling organizations that fight directly against fair and logical gun protections to children and our families is worth publicizing,” Chavez said.

Mahan countered that “that would be like saying Facebook and Twitter should kick off the NRA” on social media, which he also noted Chavez uses. “While I disagree with the NRA on most issues, I will absolutely defend their freedom of expression on internet platforms.”

Ultimately, voters in San Jose will have to dig attack ads into their mailboxes for another two weeks. How they will be influenced is another question.

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