The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) has chosen not to “pursue an investigation” of the campaign activities and unreported spending by unregistered political committee Stand Up for Santa Clara. Three council members filed a complaint with the FPPC against the group last September. [FPPC Formal Complaint (1)].
The FPPC’s response to complainants was brief, a single paragraph that simply said, “This letter is in response to the sworn complaint you submitted to the Enforcement Division of the Fair Political Practices Commission regarding the above-named individuals and entity. After review of the complaint, the Enforcement Division will not pursue an enforcement action in this matter.”
There was no further explanation.
“As a signatory to the letter [to the FPPC]. I’m unsatisfied by the FPPC’s response without explanation,” said Council Member Suds Jain, who was one of the people who filed the complaint. “We are going to ask for clarification.”
Ann Ravel, who once chaired the FPPC and also served as chair of the Federal Election Commission, also felt more details were needed.
“The FPPC should be giving a rationale for why they aren’t pursuing the complaint,” Ravel told The Weekly earlier this week.
The complaint accuses Stand Up for Santa Clara of failing to file any mandated state reports — including failing to report over $8,000 spent on political ads on Facebook in 2022 and the donation by the Santa Clara police union PAC of its mailing permit — the financing of multiple political websites hidden behind a proxy server and redirecting to Stand Up’s website, illegal political committee coordination with candidates and a fake address, which, if it existed would be in Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s real estate office.
A complaint was also filed with City Clerk Hosam Haggag and City Attorney Glen Googins, accusing Stand Up for Santa Clara of violating Santa Clara’s Dark Money ordinance. Haggag told The Weekly that he was waiting for the FPPC’s ruling, although the FPPC has no enforcement power over municipal regulations. As of publication, the City attorney is checking on the status of the FPPC complaint the dark money complaints filed.
Stand Up for Santa Clara has been campaigning for Lisa Gillmor and her slates of candidates, and against the 49ers and Levi’s Stadium since 2015. The group’s campaigns a fruitless attempt to recall several council members and a ballot initiative to undo Santa Clara’s by-district council elections (which would have subjected the city to a second voting rights lawsuit after losing the first one to the tune of $6 million), and negative campaigns against Gillmor’s opponents. We will update this story as we learn more.
Currently, Stand Up for Santa Clara, with the Santa Clara police union, is leading the campaign against ballot measures A and B, which would make the positions of city clerk and police chief appointed positions requiring professional credentials.
Stand Up claims that it’s not subject to political reporting laws because it claims to be a 501(c)(3) charity. The group has been claiming IRS 501(c)(3) status since 2022, but the IRS lists no such charity and Stand Up has failed to produce an IRS determination letter. Nor is it listed as a California Charitable Trust, which requires an IRS determination letter. The IRS says it’s currently about six months behind in its reviews.
By law, 501(c)(3) nonprofits are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign,” according to IRS rules.
“The law requires that 501(c)(3)s cannot have any political activity,” Ravel told the Weekly. Ravel testified to the U.S. Congress in 2022 [ravel senate testimony 2022] about political groups masquerading as 501(c)(3) organizations and abusing tax-exempt status.
“Any, even a small amount of politicking is problematic,” she said.