Over the weekend the Santa Clara police union did some campaigning for Measure C via a text message push-poll — campaign advertising under the guise of an opinion poll.
The “questions” told voters that Measure C would create election districts — clearly untrue because Santa Clara already has election districts — that the 49ers had donated money to the No on C campaign, that Mayor Lisa Gillmor supported Measure C, and then asked questions like, “Now that you’ve learned a little info, how do you feel about Measure C?”
To round out the campaign’s window dressing as a public opinion poll, the campaign also asked about voters’ feelings about a general obligation bond/parcel tax for the Santa Clara police department, their opinions of the police union, and their perceptions of the credibility of The Silicon Valley Voice and of a City Hall-aligned political blog that was created in 2016 at the behest of Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Council Member Teresa O’Neill.
In 2018, Superior Court Judge Thomas Kuhnle found Santa Clara in violation of the California Voting Rights Act because the City’s at-large election system diluted minority votes — ethnic minorities make up about 60 percent of Santa Clara’s population. The judge ordered the City to create six single-member Council election districts immediately and enjoined Santa Clara from holding at-large Council elections.
Measure C asks voters to reduce the six districts to three in 2022, each with two seats elected at-large. The judge’s order only specified the 2018 and 2020 elections, leading some — including City Attorney Brian Doyle — to conclude that Santa Clara is free to do something else after 2020.
The push-poll didn’t inform voters about what Measure C actually says. Nor did it tell respondents that only three Council Members in addition to Gillmor support it — Council Members Debi Davis, Teresa O’Neill and Kathy Watanabe— and that three Council Members who voted against putting it the ballot are actively opposing the measure.
The City Council put Measure C on the ballot after it was proposed by a Council-appointed committee — all but one of whose members were white — whose assignment was to write a charter change to elect the Council by single-member districts. Only two committee members opposed the three-district scheme, which was conceived by a sub-committee that didn’t publish minutes of its deliberations.
Although it hasn’t yet received any outside donations in this election, the police union PAC has, since 2016, operated as a gray money PAC — independent expenditure money that travels through nesting PACs to obscure its source.
Unlike other police union PACs, Santa Clara’s police PAC’s political activities over the last four years have largely been funded by real estate interests and developers. In the last four years the union PAC has bagged about $170,000 in developer and California Apartment Association money.
The police union hasn’t reported the current campaign expenditure, although the FPPC requires independent campaign expenditures to be reported within 48 hours.
Police PAC’s Digital Campaigns
In 2018, the police union PAC hired Related Lobbyist Jude Barry’s company, robo-texting service Voxloca, to conduct a very similar push-poll on Santa Clara Measure A — a losing 2018 measure for two Council districts, each with three at-large seats. The police union never reported that push-poll, either.
This year the police union PAC paid Barry’s consulting company, Catapult, $30,000 — $25,000 of it for “digital campaign in support of [police chief candidate] Pat Nikolai” — as well as $5,000 to a Kentucky-based political PR agency, El Toro, that specializes in online targeted campaign advertising, also for Nikolai’s campaign. Nikolai is running unopposed and doing little campaigning.
Barry’s financial relationship with the police PAC goes back at least since to 2016, when Nikolai paid $10,000 for Barry’s campaign-in-a-box software, VoterPros. That year Barry was also an advisor to Gillmor’s and O’Neill’s behested political blog. Nikolai has been on-and-off president of the police union for much of the last 17 years.
Back in 2010, Barry was hired by the Yes on Measure J committee — headed by Gillmor — to bring the pro-stadium measure across the finish line.