The Santa Clara WEEKLY has identified one donor to the BLUPAC political committee that has been roiling Santa Clara’s political discussions for the last two weeks: the San Francisco Police Officers Association Issues PAC, which gave $10,000 to BLUPAC in July according to San Francisco campaign finance records. No other donors have been identified so far.
Because BLUPAC is an IRS 501(c) 4 – the category for community service and education non-profits – it’s not required to publish its donors if it receives less than $50,000. Formed in 2015, BLUPAC hasn’t reached that limit.
Those donations do appear on donors’ campaign finance reports, but because local campaign spending information is maintained by local agencies – there is no unified national, state or even county campaign finance database – tracking the donations is a matter of brute force searching and luck.
While this has been dubbed “dark money,” the more correct term is “loophole.” Its beneficiaries include small community non-profits such as PTAs, which are thus spared filing complex tax returns detailing $1,200 in annual bake sale proceeds. Instead, non-profits in this category file a postcard 990 return.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the use of 501(c) 4 organizations as independent expenditure PACs has increased. The U.S. Congress could vote to close this loophole, or change the tax-reporting structure, but for the time being it remains entirely legal.
The website lists candidates and officials it dubs “good for Santa Clara” – Pat Mahan, Mike Sellers, Mohammad Nadeem, Dominic Caserta, Ahmad Rafah and John McLemore – and those it calls “people to watch” – Lisa Gillmor, Debi Davis, Tino Silva, Suds Jain, and Kathy Watanabe.
Records show BLUPAC paid an organization called Citizens for Economic Council $49,249 for a slate-mailer endorsing candidates for the Nov. 8 election.
The spending was reported as independent expenditures for four City Council candidates – Mahan, McLemore, Nadeem and Rafah. Mahan, McLemore and Nadeem have publically said they didn’t ask for BLUPAC’s endorsement, were not advised of the spending and have asked BLUPAC to cease its spending and endorsement on their behalf.
Because it’s an independent expenditure committee – not controlled by the candidates – BLUPAC isn’t obliged to comply with their requests.
Citizens for Economic Council – originally Citizens for Economic and Affordable Housing Solutions, Support Taylor for Santa Rosa City Council 2016 – was formed for the purpose of overturning Santa Rosa’s rent control law. It has spent $50,000 on the Santa Rosa election – shown on Santa Rosa campaign finance records – and was funded by donations from the California Apartment Association PAC, California Real Estate Independent Expenditure Committee and the Sonoma County Alliance PAC.
The Citizens’ treasurer, David Gould, is a principal of Gould and Orelliana, a business providing financial and compliance reporting services to political committees. Hence, he appears as treasurer for many California political committees. Another of Gould’s many clients is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO PAC.