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FPPC Complaint Against Stand Up For Santa Clara Alleges Dark Money Spending

For almost a decade Stand Up for Santa Clara has portrayed itself as a community group, simply interested in making life better in Santa Clara. Critics have contended otherwise, pointing to the group’s nearly exclusive focus on city politics.

This week, a new Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) complaint charges Stand Up for Santa Clara with failing to comply with state and federal laws about transparency, independent expenditure committees, campaign financial reporting and IRS nonprofit regulations.

The complaint also alleges Brown Act violations by Mayor Lisa Gillmor and her political allies on the previous city council, as well as illegal coordination between Stand Up’s political activities and the campaigns of Gillmor and her allies. 

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Stand Up is also the subject of a complaint filed this week with the City of Santa Clara charging the group with violating the City’s ordinance prohibiting dark money in city elections.

Council Members Anthony Becker, Suds Jain and Kevin Park filed the complaints.

“We’re constantly being accused of not being transparent and ethics violations,” said Jain. “Yet many of Lisa’s supporters seem oblivious to the rules.”

$8,300 In Unreported Campaign Donations And Spending

Stand Up started in 2015 with the stated goal of protecting the Santa Clara youth soccer park and claims to be a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Four of its founders – Burt Field, Tino Silva, Steve Robertson and Gabe Foo – are or have been Santa Clara Youth Soccer League board members or officials, and Field continues to run Stand Up. 

The complaint charges that by 2016, Stand Up had “evolved…to a political operation” and its posts, mailers and websites almost exclusively campaign for Gillmor’s political allies, against Gillmor’s political opponents and for two ballot measures to maintain at-large council seats, which had been ruled illegal in a 2018 voting rights lawsuit. Stand Up is currently campaigning to prevent residents from voting on whether the police chief and city clerk should be appointed or elected. 

The group has no FPPC number and has never filed any of the reporting required by California’s Fair Political Practices Act or by Santa Clara’s ordinances, the complaint reports, documenting at least $8,300 spent in ads in the 2022 election alone. Stand Up’s advertising continued through this year, with a new ad going up this week. Stand Up uses an IRS employer ID number to qualify its ads on Facebook. 

Coordination Between Independent Expenditure Committee and Candidates

Independent expenditure committees cannot coordinate with campaigns and candidates. If they do, they aren’t covered by the U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United, allowing independent expenditure committees to collect and spend unlimited amounts of money.   

The complaint paints a picture of Stand Up as an arm of Gillmor’s campaign; posting nearly daily for Gillmor, her allies and political actions she favors and against anyone who opposes Gillmor’s candidates or favors different policies. Field regularly writes editorials for and reposts content from Robert Haugh’s pro-Gillmor blog. 

Stand Up also runs a series of websites, the complaint alleges, hiding the ownership behind a proxy server. However, these URLs — including, for example, saveoursantaclara.com, protectsantaclara.org — were purchased the same day and time by the same entity. 

As evidence of coordination, the complaint cites political videos on Stand Up’s YouTube page.

The most “damning evidence of coordination,” cited by the complaint is a 2016 press conference video Gillmor held with Council Member Kathy Watanabe and then-council members Debi Davis and Teresa O’Neill.

“Gillmor exposes her ties to the organization,” the complaint alleges, by saying,  “‘It’s no surprise we always said at Stand Up For Santa Clara, follow the money.’”

The complaint also alleges that this press conference was a Brown Act* violation because a quorum of the council was discussing public business outside a properly noticed meeting.

Gillmor is quoted saying, “I have actually the majority of the council here in support of openness and transparency. Let’s not let this fake organization [BLU-PAC] with laundered money tell us who to vote for in our city.” 

Another evidence of coordination the complaint offers is Stand Up’s apparently fictitious mailing address: 1202 Franklin Mall. Certified mail sent to that address was returned, marked “no such number.” Gillmor owns 1201-1251 Franklin Mall, as reported on her financial interests report (Form 700); 1202 would be adjacent to Gillmor’s real estate offices (1201 and 1203 Franklin Mall). 

A second complaint stating that the group violates Santa Clara’s dark money ordinance was also filed with City Clerk Hosam Haggag. The complaint cites the same absence of reporting as the FPPC complaint, with the additional evidence that the Santa Clara police union PAC shared its mailing permit — i.e. postage — with Stand Up, an in-kind donation unreported by either political committee. The police union PAC, with Stand Up, has been stridently campaigning to maintain an elected police chief and city clerk.  

The complaint also asks the City to investigate Stand Up’s status with the IRS. Although the group claims to have a 501(c)(3) designation, the IRS shows no record of it, as the complaint documents. By law, 501(c)(3) nonprofits are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign,” per the IRS. Reportedly, someone has already filed a complaint with the IRS. 

According to Jain,  the FPPC hasn’t published the complaint. However, it was first noted by a commenter of Haugh’s blog, James Rowen — a fervent Gillmor booster who posts under a variety of pen names.

“It is very odd that Rowen had the complaint before it’s been posted,” said Jain.

*California’s open meetings law prohibits a quorum of any public body from meeting, in any way, to discuss public issues without a published agenda 72 hours before the meeting. 

Read the complaints:
Dark Money violation Complaint
FPPC Formal Complaint

For a look into Stand Up’s campaign practices read Stand Up For Santa Clara’s Questionable Email Tactics

This isn’t the first FPPC complaint about Stand Up: Related Companies Consultant Named in FPPC Complaint Against 4 City Council Candidates, Expenditures Unreported, Grand Jury Foreman Linked to Candidate

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2 Comments
  1. Whatever 7 months ago
    Reply

    Wow. $8300! How much did the 49ers spend again?

    This is hardly worth a mention, let alone an entire article. Both sides of the Santa Clara political mudslinging are an embarrassment!

  2. Ed Richards 7 months ago
    Reply

    Stand up for Santa Clara campaigns for elected Chief of Police, Elected City Clerk, Maintain at large council seats with no FPPC number, No reports of money spent violate 501 c 3 designation by campaigning for political purposes. You want to compare them to the 49ers who spent substantially mor money and reported every thing as required by law. Somehow you see a parallel to stand up for Santa Clara. Absolutly amazing eyesight and logic.

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