Editor’s Note: In this article, we mistakenly labeled City Clerk Hosam Haggag as a Gillmor ally. Mr. Haggag correctly pointed out that he is an elected official. It has been corrected.
Just because the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) logs a complaint doesn’t mean that the commission is investigating the complaint, found it has merit or has even looked at it. But some voices in Santa Clara would have people believe that complaints — some of which they have filed — are the same thing as an investigation.
For, example Council Member Kathy Watanabe and Lee Broughman, the campaign treasurer for Mayor Lisa Gillmor and a Santa Clara libraries trustee, bring up these complaints at almost every council meeting, falsely calling them “investigations.” Public gadfly and Gillmor champion James Rowen routinely sends mass emails attacking council members based on complaints he himself has filed.
All the hullabaloo is based on four complaints, filed by City Clerk Hosam Haggag and two Gillmor allies: fired City Attorney Brian Doyle and Rowen.
Doyle’s complaint, filed earlier this year, accuses Council Members Raj Chahal and Karen Hardy of taking a stadium operations tour during a game — part of their responsibilities as members of the Santa Clara Stadium Authority (SCSA) — and not reporting this as a gift. Doyle also complained that Hardy accepted a bottle of water during the operations tour.
Two complaints were filed on July 25, 2021 by City Clerk Haggag against Council Member Kevin Park. Another complaint against Park was filed within minutes of the complaint filed by Haggag. That complaint was filed by one-time South Bay politico James Rowen. Because the complaints are similar, they were combined into an investigation that is “open and ongoing,” said FPPC Communications Director Jay Wierenga.
Haggag also filed a complaint earlier this year against the 49ers PAC supporting Council Member Anthony Becker for Mayor. This complaint has been dismissed. The rest of the complaints listed above are pending.
The complaints against Chahal and Hardy don’t appear to be under active investigation at this time.
“Please note that although a case has been opened,” the FPPC wrote to the council members, “we have not determined the validity of the allegations made against you or the culpability of anyone identified in the complaint.”
“Complaints are all taken under review to determine merit, to determine whether to open an investigation,” said Wierenga. “We are required to make a determination, by law and regulation. There is a specific process in our regulations.
“If a complaint is deemed not to have merit, to not indicate a violation, [or] not enough information [is] included, it is then dismissed,” Wierenga continued. “If a complaint is deemed to have merit, to indicate any potential violation of the Act, then an investigation begins.”
City Attorney: No There, There on Operations Tour Complaint
The question about the operations tour was referred to the Santa Clara City Attorney’s office, which reported to the Council on June 21 that this should not be considered a gift under the FPPC’s definition of “gift.”
Previous advice given by the FPPC found that such tickets were properly considered informational material, which is exempt from gift reporting requirements.
In 1993, the FPPC determined that free tickets given to a City theater manager to watch a show at a private theater “did not constitute a gift because the theater manager attended the performance to evaluate potential performers for the City.”
Santa Clara Deputy City Attorney Luis Haro wrote in his report about the stadium tour that “informational material” means any item which serves primarily to convey information and which is provided to an official for the purpose of assisting him or her in the performance of official duties.
“The FPPC considers several factors when determining whether a tour qualifies as informational material,” he continued. “Will the tour primarily convey information; is the tour specifically designed for public officials; was the tour formally structured to convey information to the officials; and does the tour appear extravagant in value or nature in relationship to the information conveyed.”
Haro further explained, “The tour was primarily designed to convey information because …[it was] specifically highlighting issues relevant to the governing body for the stadium. The tour was specifically designed for the council members/Stadium Authority members evidenced by the fact that they accessed areas of the stadium that are not open to the public such as the temporary holding facility. The tour was also intended to convey information about stadium operations and security procedures.”
Finally, Haro said, “…free admission to the stadium during a game was arguably necessary to accurately assess the operation of the stadium in real time.”
FPPC Complaints as Political Tactics
Filing FPPC complaints as a political tactic is not new in Santa Clara. In 2016, attorney John Mlnarik filed a series of FPPC complaints against candidates Kathy Watanabe, Tino Silva and Debi Davis alleging that they were using the services of Related’s lobbyist Jude Barry without reporting these as donations of services. These complaints were dismissed.
However, the three were each fined about $600 by the FPPC for failing to file disclosures on a timely basis about campaign consulting services received from Santa Clara youth soccer league’s board member and former president, Gabe Foo.
At the time, Davis and Watanabe were on the Ethics Committee.