The lawsuit facing Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor alleging that she broke California’s political reporting laws is, at its heart, about following the spirit of California’s 1974 Political Reform Act law, says Ann Ravel, former chair of the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). Ravel is advising the legal team, McManis Faulkner, that brought the lawsuit in October.
Gillmor has contended that she doesn’t have to report her interest in Public Property Advisors (PPA) because she gets no money from it. She hasn’t replied to the Weekly’s requests for comment.
When she was on the City Council in the 1990s, Gillmor reported her interests in the company, but didn’t after she was appointed to the Council in 2011 until 2017.
If this is permissible, it would be a “huge loophole,” Ravel says. “If this loophole was practiced by every elected official it would allow them to completely skirt the disclosure laws.”
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, whose office was asked to investigate the question earlier this year, says that Gillmor’s PPA interest was, in effect, reported because it’s a subsidiary of Gary Gillmor & Associates, owned by the Gillmor family.
“In response to citizens’ complaints we investigated Lisa Gillmor’s Forms 700 in October 2016 and August 2018,” wrote the District Attorney’s PIO Sean Webby in an email statement.
“In neither case, did we inform Ms. Gillmor that her Forms 700 were deficient. In 2016 we did make suggestions to Ms. Gillmor about how to more clearly report certain real estate holdings.
“In August 2018, we investigated whether ‘Public Property Advisors’ should have been named in Ms. Gillmor’s Forms 700,” Webby continued.
“Because Public Property Advisors was simply a DBA of Gary Gillmor & Associates, we concluded that Ms. Gillmor properly reported her income under the name Gary Gillmor & Associates in her Forms 700. For the years in question, Ms. Gillmor did not have an ownership interest in Gary Gillmor & Associates DBA Public Property Advisors.”
Predictably, Ravel is skeptical of that analysis.
“The Political Reform Act (PRA) was initially enacted because of a voter initiative,” Ravel said. “It was after Watergate and people were concerned about elected officials’ conflicts of interest. There was a sense that there needed to be ethical standards and not just for elected officials.
“They were needed for all public officials with the ability to make public decisions at any level,” she continued. “There was always concern that people were receiving money from outside interests and doing favors. It was clear that there was a revolving door [between political office and industry].”
Complete disclosure of public officials’ business is of “paramount importance,” Ravel says, otherwise there is no way to know if there are conflicts of interest.
“Most agencies operate on complaints,” said Ravel. “It’s not possible [for the FPPC] to sift through hundreds of thousands of reports. So the law’s purpose is to allow the public and press to be watchdogs.”
The initiative that created the FPPC wasn’t intended to be narrow, Ravel explains. “The importance of those disclosures was quite clear in the PRA. The public wanted expansive disclosure.”
The Faulkner McManis legal team estimates that PPA had at least $180,000 in revenues during the six years that Gillmor didn’t report her ownership interest.
“We’re not saying whether there’s a conflict of interest,” Ravel explained. “That’s yet to be determined.
“But what we are saying,” Ravel concluded, “is that she failed to disclose information that would allow people to determine if there is a conflict or self-dealing.”
The case number 18CV336922. You can read the complaint online. A hearing is scheduled in February.
This is the third news story the Silicon Valley Voice (aka Santa Clara Weekly) has done on the lawsuit. None of the three has identified who is paying for the services of the McManis Faulkner Law firm. Is it Brian Exline, the Santa Clara University law school student who filed the suit? Or is the lawsuit really being financed by a third party with self-serving motives. It would be interesting to follow the money back to its source.
The timing of the lawsuit – less than a month before the elections – coupled with its same-day coverage by the Mercury News, has the whiff of putrid politics. There may a story out there as big as or bigger than the actual lawsuit.
At a minimum it’d be a nice human interest story about a law student with no student debt, a significant amount of discretionary income, and an altruistic drive for exposing potential wrongdoing by local politicians.