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Police Union Possibly Skirting Campaign Laws

The Santa Clara Police Officers Association (POA) and its PAC appear to be violating — or at the very least skirting  — laws barring unions from using member dues for political campaigns as well as FPPC disclosure regulations. The police union and PAC declined to answer The Weekly’s questions about its political activities.

An “Informational” Website With a Campaign Message

On Oct. 7, a proxy entity purchased the URL Grandjuryreport.com [WHOIS grand jury report] — four days before the report was published on the county website.

On Oct. 11, the website was up and running, describing itself as “public service information brought to you by the Santa Clara police Officers Association.” The website leveraged the controversial grand jury report, Unsportsmanlike Conduct on the Santa Clara City Council to attack Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s political opponents.

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Unions must separate representation costs from political activities, per a 1988 Supreme Court decision. Yet, the union appears to be using regular dues for politics.

Adding to its political usefulness, the webpage went live just in time to be promoted during a noon rally at City Hall by a self-described recall attempt that has yet to form a registered political committee. [] A week later, the POA was running Facebook ads promoting the site.

Featuring random pages from the grand jury report with inflammatory phrases highlighted in yellow, the page uses the union PAC’s familiar style of showing its targets — Council Members Anthony Becker, Raj Chahal, Karen Hardy, Suds Jain and Kevin Park in dark shadow. The union has always opposed minority candidates and campaigned for ballot measures to overturn the by-district election system that elected Santa Clara’s first minority council members.

The day the website went live, Santa Clara’s elected police chief, Pat Nikolai, sent a public email to District Attorney Jeff Rosen demanding criminal investigations of the five council members named by the grand jury. Nikolai did this despite the grand jury making no criminal allegations.

Developer-Financed Mailers Arrive Before They’re Reported

A week later, Santa Clarans received political mailers that looked just like the website, with the addition of yellow crime scene tape and the logo of the County Civil Grand Jury on the upper left corner. The mailers were sent by the union PAC and paid for by CSC Development, owner of Tuscany apartments in Santa Clara.

Again, all the white, Gillmor-endorsed candidates are shown in bright color, while their opponents are in dark shadows. The mailer has no sending address (an FPPC violation) and doesn’t appear to be printed by a union shop.

The PAC reported the expenditure on Oct. 21 —  after the mailers arrived in mailboxes on Oct. 18 — despite FPPC requirements to report campaign expenditures within 24 hours of making them. The PAC hasn’t filed a financial report (Form 460) since July 30. While the report isn’t required quarterly, most political groups make a practice of it.

Ties That Bind: Gillmor and the Police Union

The mailers’ principal message is that Santa Clara must keep its elected police chief; falsely asserting that Gillmor’s opponents “support a process to change the charter and eliminate your right to vote.” The charter cannot be changed without voter approval.

Nikolai is the former, longtime police union president and a longtime Gillmor ally — she pushed the then-police lieutenant’s candidacy for police chief in 2016. That election also featured an October surprise grand jury report and a grand jury foreman who was a services vendor to Tino Silva — a Gillmor ally running for council that year.

In 2016, Gillmor and Nikolai accused police officials of instructing employees not to report stadium hours, although that grand jury found no evidence of it. That year, the police union threatened “not to work” at Levi’s Stadium over Colin Kaepernick taking a knee.

In 2006, then-union president Nikolai and self-described private businesswoman Lisa Gillmor undersigned a ballot measure favoring binding arbitration for the public safety unions. In his 2016 campaign, Nikolai promised to bring the issue back.

Binding arbitration would give two unions an additional avenue for contract disputes besides negotiation and wasn’t subject to appeal.

“Binding arbitration will remove local control of our city’s tax dollars; it will provide a leveraged bargaining position for police and fire unions in all wage and benefit negotiations…it’s the community that could be on life-support if this measure passes,” former police chief Charlie Arolla wrote to The Weekly in Oct. 2006.

Another critic of the ballot measure, former Council Member Jamie McLeod, wrote in a Weekly editorial that the Measure “will undermine the ability of the elected police chief and the city council to fully regulate how force is used.”

That same year, the City of Gilroy concluded an 18-month arbitration costing the city $260,000. The arbitrator ruled in favor of the firefighters union, which was asking for a 10% raise, as opposed to the 4.5% Gilroy offered. Gilroy had to shift funds in its budget to cover the additional cost.

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20 Comments
  1. Buchser Alum 1 month ago
    Reply

    Carolyn,

    I am sorry if I missed it but in reading through your entire article a couple times and reviewing certain sections I am not seeing substantiation of your allegation that the SCPOA and its PAC “appear to be violating — or at the very least skirting — laws barring unions from using member dues for political campaigns as well as FPPC disclosure regulations.” From my reading it appears you are detailing political activity on the part of the SCPOA or its PAC. Does that by itself give the “appearance” of using union dues for political activies?

    Also as I explained in some other comments it appears that Raj Chahal has given a photograph of him to the Forty Niners PAC supporting him to use on the website they paid to be made for him. The same photograph appeared in a profile Silicon Valley Voice ran on Chahal in 2018. Your “Editor” has said they believe it was given to Silicon Valley Voice by Chahal. It is not the same file. The one the Forty Niner PAC website is much higher resolution and must have come from a different source file presumably from Chahal.

    Coupled with the fact that Chahal’s campaign for reelection to council has garnered over $850,000 in financial support from the Forty Niners and he has had dozens of private meetings with the Forty Niners that he took pains to keep private is not there at least the appearance of Chahal and the Forty Niners “skirting campaign laws?”

    Will Silicon Valley Voice report on this or is it only interested in reporting in accordance with its apparent political bias?

    I look forward to you continuing to report on the SCPOA. I have never liked when police unions get involved in politics beyond their own members and I feel no differently about this also happening in Santa Clara.

    But I really wish that you would cover campaign finance corruption without seeming bias.

    • SC Booster 1 month ago
      Reply

      I find myself in complete agreement with your observations here. I kept looking for evidence to substantiate the accusation and couldn’t find it here. It seems a bit reckless. I am also a fan of transparency and I welcome the public oversight of the activities of our city government and services but I would like to see more evidence of wrongdoing before actual public accusations are made, regardless of whom the target of the investigation may be.

    • Davy L 1 month ago
      Reply

      Buchser Alum:
      You are wrong to suggest that the Chahal campaign provided the photo to the 49ers. The Editor stated, “It is a public headshot that anyone can request and was also used on the Voter’s Edge website in 2018.” This statement claims that anyone can request the photo and use it “freely”. The insinuations you have made is not creditable.

  2. David Baldwin 1 month ago
    Reply

    “…the by-district election system that elected Santa Clara’s first minority council members.” This statement, or something similar, has occurred before in this publication and others. If not untrue, at a minimum the truth is more nuanced than this.

    While it didn’t influence my vote at the time, I thought Roger Martinez was Hispanic. He was a councilmember from 1979-1983. Also, if you go back to the 1920s and 1930s there were a number of council members with Hispanic names (but could have been Portuguese) – Vargas, Santos, Castro.
    https://www.santaclaraca.gov/our-city/government/city-council-history

    It’s definitely true, however, that the first council members of Asian ancestry were elected by the relatively new by-district election system. But maybe race/ethnicity wasn’t a significant factor in the election of the current Santa Clara City Council.

    Based on 2020 census data, two Santa Clara city council districts have Asian Citizens of Voting Age Population (CVAP) pluralities – D1 and D3. And those two districts have European American council members. The three council districts with Asian American council members have non-Hispanic white CVAP pluralities – D2, D4, and D5.
    https://www.santaclaraca.gov/our-city/government/mayor-and-council/councilmembers
    https://www.santaclaraca.gov/our-city/government/redistricting-2021
    https://www.santaclaraca.gov/home/showpublisheddocument/76434/637798492748070000

    • Buchser Alum 1 month ago
      Reply

      David,

      Good points on both the fact that there have been Hispanic councilpeople in the past and also what the demographics are like in districts and how that relates to the race of their councilperson.

      I support district elections and I think it was wrong for Gillmor to lead a fight against a division into six districts instead of three but I recognize the obvious fact that she opposed this for political reasons not racial reasons. Just like how the Forty Niners spent millions of dollars on this not for social justice reasons but political and financial reasons.

      In 2018 it is true that Raj Chahal beat Nancy Biagini to take the District 2 seat. It is also true that in the same year Karen Hardy beat Srinivasan Sambathkumar for the District 3 seat.

      I think that Santa Clara is at the point now where we are diverse enough that race may not be a factor in selecting even citywide candidates.

      But it is definitely true that one of the biggest factors in our elections is the influence of Forty Niners money. It looks like the Forty Niners may end up spending $4,000,000 in this years elections. I believe that more money will be spent by the Forty Niners in our mayor and two council elections than all spending for San Jose’s mayor and three council elections combined. This is obscene.

      • Davy L 1 month ago
        Reply

        I think it’s good for the 49ers to helping our City to give Gillmor the boot.

  3. BarbaraH 1 month ago
    Reply

    It’s amazing how much money is spent to help candidates get elected. Too bad we don’t have a more equitable system.

  4. CSC 1 month ago
    Reply

    A transparent and nonarbitrary mayor would have pressed the city manager to investigate which employees were responsible for posting the Civil Grand Jury Report on the city’s web site ahead of the official court release. With less than two weeks before the polls close, turn off the noise and just make sure to mark your ballots for Anthony Becker, Raj Chahal, and Karen Hardy.

    • Davy L 1 month ago
      Reply

      CSC;
      I agree with you 100%. My ballot already went into the mailbox for Becker.

  5. SCFirst 1 month ago
    Reply

    Buscher Alum you forgot that Srinivasan Sambathkumar (aka Sam Kumar) was encouraged to run for city council on the recommendation of Teresa O’Niel (who’s dad was good friends with Lisa’s Dad) – and Lisa is now having someone come into the city and run against Karen Hardy, who has spent all of a minute in the city, at least Kumar ran a business here.

    And everyone over looks the fact that Lisa brought the Niners to town and for whatever reason they turned on her and so she is in a battle to regain power all at the cost of the residents

    Thank Goodness Becker, Hardy, Chahal, Park, and Jain have the guts to at least try wade through the mess – people have not looked at their voting records when it comes to the Niners, nor has the Grand Jury bothered to talk to them. I love what Chahal said and I will paraphrase him but something along the lines “In this country we are innocent until proven guilty” plus he talked about the Freedoms of this country and the justice system and how in some countries we do not have those but it appears the DA and the Grand Jury gave a report without even talking to those indicated in the report. And How convenient it was “release” on the Friday before it was even ready to a reporter – I wonder who was behind that surely not Ms G or her sidekick KW.

    • Buchser Alum 1 month ago
      Reply

      SCFirst,

      You missed that my point was that Santa Clara is diverse enough now that race is not a determining factor and district elections do not always result in greater diversity though I agree with our having six districts. Gautam Barve was a minority candidate and the fact that he was a MAGA follower does not change that.

      You and many others like to pretend that Gillmor brought the Forty Niners to Santa Clara and seem to forget or want to pretend that Patty Mahan and John McLemore and others had just as prominent a role or an even bigger one. Those two brought up Anthony Becker. And the Forty Niners did not turn on Gillmor they turned on Santa Clara.

      And people have looked at the voting records of Becker and Chahal and Hardy and Jain and Park. For the past two years they have all voted for the Forty Niners at every opportunity.

      Chahal does not seem to understand that his statements about innocence and guilt are nonsense. He may be trying to play some sort of martyr but he was not convicted guilty of anything. He seems to need some education on what civil grand juries are.

      As for the early release of the report that was obviously by the Forty Niners. The two earliest news articles on the report were published here and in San Jose Spotlight with extensive reaction quotes from Forty Niners executives. The one on this site was published at 3:00 AM and the Mercury did not publish their article until around 1:00 PM. The Forty Niners obviously wanted to get their PR spin out along with an early release of the report on a Friday.

      • Davy L 1 month ago
        Reply

        Since your aim is decidedly “crooked”, it is very easy to miss your point.

  6. SCPD 1 month ago
    Reply

    The fact that any portion of police union dues are funding a political machine is the first red flag of a crooked scenario. Call me crazy but our first responders need not in any way look like they are aligned to any political party/group/entity etc.

  7. Joesph Warren 1 month ago
    Reply

    Sad than an Opinion piece is set forth as “news.” Perhaps I may have yet to be fully informed, but the writer of this article has not written about teacher unions and how teachers’ union fees pay to undermine our children’s education. Further, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill forcing California taxpayers to pay up to $400 million of public and private employees’ union dues. See Assembly Bill 185. Yet, during growing crime waves because of California’s lenient laws, the writer attacks the police, who serve our community with their lives (and not behind a computer screen). Nowhere does the article seem to support cops, but attack them for having a different opinion of the writer. When gun fire happens, like it did near our family last year in Santa Clara, I’d rather have a cop than the writer provide a safe community. Sheesh.

    • Davy L 1 month ago
      Reply

      I suggest you reread the comment above by “SCPD”.

  8. Carolyn Schuk 1 month ago
    Reply

    Thank you for being a reader:) We have nothing but respect for the SCPD officers who serve our community, and we have always covered the many good things they do — from chats with the chief, to courageous rescues, to transformative programs like the Crisis Intervention Team. This article is about the political activities of the police union and its PAC; and members don’t have a choice about their dues being used for these purposes. The question of public union influence in California and nationally is an important one, but our focus is local. CalMatters.org is an excellent source for in-depth reporting on California.

    • Davy L 1 month ago
      Reply

      Carolyn;
      I always enjoy reading your articles. I find them to be very well written and informative. I’ve learned a lot concerning the many affairs of our City through them. Please keep up your good work.

  9. Dave Kadlecek 1 month ago
    Reply

    Assembly Bill 185 in the current legislative session is titled “Education finance: education omnibus trailer bill”, and has numerous provisions, but at least from what I can see in a quick scan, none of them have anything to do with union dues. Which of its provisions do you think “forc[es] California taxpayers to pay up to $400 million of public and private employees’ union dues”?

  10. SCPD 1 month ago
    Reply

    @Joseph Warren the problem here is quite clear but the way it’s purposely set forth is to be divisive. See I support each and every officer who works a position and appreciate their service day in and out. They may not be perfect but they do a hell of a job and deserve respect and commendation as well as the flip side of discipline when something is wrong. Now you enter your rogue figure here and that’s a Chief who is pushing a hard line with a PAC that is fueled by union dues and dark money. Those dues are mandatory in nature and because each officer is forced to pay them it doesn’t necessarily mean they are ok with where that money is spent or what that PAC states on their behalf. So to be against the political action of the PAC Lisa or the chief are quick to say you don’t support the police. No you idiots we love the officers it’s you clowns hiding behind the shield of blue is who we do not support. Again service to our community should trump service to our city officials. Nikolai is in pocket therefore he is a $hit reputation of SCPD. I would love to anonymously poll 25 officers and ask them if they prefer their dues go to let’s say youth activities or the dare program or go to the PAC. The answer I imagine would be overwhelmingly non political. Speaking of which how is it we can’t fund the DARE program but the PAC has hundreds of thousands to be involved in politics? Astounding.

    • Davy L 1 month ago
      Reply

      Here’s hoping our Council puts a ballot measure before our voters to having our Chief of Police no longer be an elected position but rather appointed in a similar manner as our City Manger and City Attorney by our Council Members.
      The Chief of Police is as important a position as our City Attorney. That person needs to be vetted before acquiring the position. That can only be done through a careful and thorough selection process. And should a problem later occur, then similar to what took place with Santana and Doyle, that person can be fired and replaced.
      Under our current system, our Police PAC selects its candidate to run for Chief of Police. That person usually runs unopposed and is elected. That needs to be changed. First, the Police PAC is not an elected body. So, what’s worse, having our Chief of Police appointed by an unelected PAC or having our Chief of Police appointed by our City Council which is an elected body?

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