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Follow the Money 2020: Battle of the PACs

The big story in Santa Clara’s 2020 election is the unprecedented amount of independent expenditure money —spending controlled by politicial action committees, not the candidates — flowing into this election. The players are a new Jed York-funded PAC with $1.1 million in the bank and the developer-funded police union PAC, which hasn’t disclosed how much it has on hand.

The York-funded PAC’s full name clearly states where its money comes from: The Citizens for Efficient Government and Full Voting Rights, Sponsored by John Edward (JED) York and Affiliated Entities, including Forty Niners Football Company, LLC. Its founders include former Congressman Mike Honda and former Santa Clara Mayor Pat Mahan.

By contrast, the Santa Clara Police Association PAC, who prior to this year was the big money in Santa Clara elections, doesn’t disclose its developer funders on its mailers.


The spending is changing the dynamics of the election. In the past, the police PAC and its developer funders gave Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s candidates a huge advantage in getting candidates’ names in front of voters, with challengers constrained by the City’s campaign spending limits because they had no deep-pocketed independent expenditure PACs behind them.

Now the tables are turned and the challengers have the independent expenditure wind at their backs.


Big Spending by PACS Isn’t New 

The last time this much money was spent in a Santa Clara election was 2010’s Measure J, the campaign to build Levi’s Stadium, led by Gillmor.

That campaign spent over $4 million — much of it on TV ads featuring Gillmor, Kathy Watanabe and Debi Davis — to persuade voters to approve building Levi’s Stadium. Back then, they were selling the 49ers as the saviors of Santa Clara. Ten years later they now express shock at the 49ers’ political spending.

Big PAC spending in Council elections got going in 2016 when the police union PAC spent nearly $100,000 from Prometheus, SummerHill, Citation and De Anza Builders promoting Debi Davis, Teresa O’Neill, Tino Silva, Kathy Watanabe and Pat Nikolai and attacking their opponents, most notably in the racially-charged Black/White “letter from your Mayor” mailers. All but one of Gillmor’s candidates were elected that year.

The spending continued in 2018 — Santa Clara’s first by-district election — but the only police PAC-endorsed candidate that won was Gillmor, the only at-large candidate on the ballot.

A central issue in the campaign is City Hall’s continuing fight against the voting rights lawsuit it lost in June 2018 and its efforts to restore some form of at-large Council election system in Santa Clara.

Earlier this year York and the 49ers spent $617,000 to defeat City Hall-led Measure C, which attempted to replace six single member districts with three multi-member districts. measure C lost by 20 points.

In some sense, this was an answer to a 2018 campaign in which the supporters of another losing measure for multi-member districts that took $85,000 in gray and dark money from two Texas organizations run by hedge fund billionaire and former Enron energy trader John Arnold.


2020’s PAC Players

So far, three PACs are active in this election: The Citizens for Efficient Government, the Police Association and the Firefighters Local 1171.

The Citizens for Efficient Government PAC has received $1.1 million from the Yorks and the 49er entities.

Of this, the lion’s share ($760,000) has been spent on TV advertising for candidates Harbir Bhatia (District 1), Anthony Becker (District 6), Suds Jain (District 5) and Kevin Park (District 4). Another roughly $120,000 has been spent on mailers and robo-calls and texts. Three of these candidates opposed building Levi’s Stadium.

About $100,000 has been spent on negative mailers, robo-calls and texts against Kathy Watanabe (District 1), Robert Mezzetti (District 6), Bob O’Keefe (District 5) and Teresa O’Neill (District 4).

Firefighters Local 1171 PAC has about $72,000 on hand and so far has spent cumulatively about $12,000 on mailers for Mezzetti, O’Keefe, O’Neill and Watanabe. The Firefighters also donated $500 each to O’Keefe and O’Neill. All of the Firefighters union PAC’s money comes from union member donations.

The Santa Clara Police Association PAC hasn’t filed a financial statement (Form 460) in Santa Clara since July, so each of its spending reports (Form 496) has to be reviewed to find its funders, and there is no report of how much cash the PAC has on hand. The filing deadline was Sept. 24, so it appears from the City’s records that the PAC is almost two weeks past deadline.

The union sold its building last year, putting about $250,000 in its treasury that union officials said they planned to use to elect Police Chief Pat Nikolai. Records show that at least $32,000 was transferred from other union funds to the PAC at the end of 2019.

So far the police PAC has received a total of $50,000 from developers — Related Companies ($25,000), De Anza Building and Maintenance ($15,000) and Citation Homes ($10,000). Related and De Anza have active development projects in the City. The PAC reports about $3,000 from union member donations in its most recent filing.

The PAC has spent about $23,000 on mailers for O’Keefe, O’Neill, Mezzetti and Watanabe.

Among its expenses is $5,000 political for consulting services from Related Companies lobbyist Jude Barry, via Barry’s political consulting business Catapult Strategies. The police PAC has paid Barry for his political advice and campaign services since 2016.


Where To Find Campaign Finance Information  

Here’s the direct link to Santa Clara campaign finance reporting: When you reach that page, select PUBLIC ACCESS PORTAL. For more information, check out The Weekly’s piece, How To Follow the Money: Peeling the Campaign Spending Onion.

The City’s campaign reporting site has become more difficult to navigate in recent years, as independent expenditure financial reports (Form 460) and contributions received (Form 497) are no longer included under independent expenditure committee reporting. The only reporting in the independent expenditure category is spending.

You have to search separately for each PAC to find out about where the money comes from, how much of it they have and direct donations to campaigns the PACs are making. This benefits the police union PAC, which doesn’t disclose its donors in its name or in its campaign ads.


  1. J. Byron Fleck 4 years ago

    Did POA provide reason for missing the 9/24 filing deadline? What action, if any, does City Clerk intend to take given POA’s failure to file?
    Thank you! Well written piece.

    • Carolyn Schuk 4 years ago

      Definitely a followup is needed!

  2. Tom E. 4 years ago

    Left unstated is why those PACs support their respective candidates.

    We know one reason: The POA, men and women that work, sweat, and bleed in Santa Clara, hosted a candidate forum and their membership endorsed 4 candidates.

    We have to guess why the out-of-towner’s PAC, funded and ran by out-of-towners, chose their four candidates. The most obvious guess is they are looking for a rubber stamp so they can act with impunity.

    As a District 6 resident, I am terrified by Mr. Becker’s bizarre vision to upend our civil society. Defund the police? No thanks, Mr. Becker. But how much can we expect from someone that thinks our police drive around in “tanks”? (LWV D-6 Candidate Forum)

  3. Davy L. 3 years ago

    Please vote for Anthony Becker. He will provide us with an independent voice for our District 6. On the other hand, Robert Mezzetti will only be a puppet for his two main supporters: Lisa Gillmor and Deanna Santana.

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