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City Punts Dark Money Enforcement to FPPC

Santa Clara City Hall appears to be delegating enforcement of campaign reporting laws — and even its own Dark Money ordinance — to the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).

In September, City Council Members Anthony Becker, Kevin Park and Suds Jain filed City and state complaints against the unregistered political committee Stand Up for Santa Clara for its failure to comply with city- and state-mandated campaign disclosures. The three also filed an IRS complaint about Stand Up for Santa Clara’s unsupported claim to be a tax-exempt 501(c)(3).

After The Weekly published a story about the City’s apparent inaction on the complaint, the City wrote to Stand Up for Santa Clara in October, asking for an explanation of these reporting failures. The organization responded by simply repeating its assertions that it’s a tax-exempt nonprofit whose activities are educational. No proof was offered.

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In response to The Weekly’s queries about the City’s next moves, City Clerk Hosam Haggag wrote that city hall “intends to seek direction and/or advice from the FPPC as to whether the activity from [Stand Up for Santa Clara] constitutes political activity within the Political Reform Act.

“While the local Dark Money Ordinance and the Political Reform Act are different in nature, the determination of the FPPC may help the City in its final determination,” he continued. “There may also be nuance in [Stand Up for Santa Clara]’s activities based on timing: before versus after the Council took action to put the measure on the ballot or when the ballot measure is approved/accepted by the [Registrar of Voters] and that may also play a role in the FPPC’s determination.”

Stand Up for Santa Clara has never filed a public report of its activities, although it has been operating for eight years and campaigning in every election since 2016. Its founder, Burt Field, told the Mercury News that he has no current connection to the group, yet sent an email blast from Stand Up’s address this month. [Burt Field email blast 12-2-23]

Situational Enforcement of Dark Money Ordinance

Haggag has not always relied on the FPPC to help the City determine if its Dark Money ordinance was violated. In fact, he went after the 49ers for a public opinion poll it sponsored to gauge public sentiment about the March 2020 ballot Measure C.* At the time, Haggag said the 49ers “did not disclose,” “were not transparent,” and “were not honest” in what he regarded as an attempt to influence voters. The 49ers, in fact, had reported the expenditure to the FPPC.

Other city clerks in Santa Clara have also pursued Dark Money ordinance complaints without guidance from the FPPC.

In 2018, then-Santa Clara City Clerk Rod Diridon Jr. fined a group called BLUPAC for failing to report campaign spending within 48 hours.

“It is important that if a Dark Money independent expenditure committee operates within the City, they realize they will be held accountable,” Diridon said at the time.

BLUPAC was fined $9,000.

*After a court found Santa Clara in violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) and imposed six single council election districts, Measure C proposed to replace 6 single member council districts with 3 multi-member council districts. Had the measure passed, the CVRA litigants promised to bring a second CVRA lawsuit.

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2 Comments
  1. Buchser Alum 6 months ago
    Reply

    Hopefully the FPPC can get to the bottom of this grave matter of around $8 thousand dollars in “dark money” spending.

    • Buchser 2 6 months ago
      Reply

      Innocence before guilt.

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