FPPC looks into 49ers, Santa Clara for potential Measure C violations
Santa Clara City Manager Deanna Santana, along with Mayor Lisa Gillmor, are pictured in this file photo from the 2019 State of the City speech. Photo by Janice Bitters.

Santa Clara’s contentious Measure C was defeated on Super Tuesday, but investigations into alleged violations made before polls closed March 3 are still pending.

The Fair Political Practices Commission has opened investigations into actions by both city officials and the San Francisco 49ers, who were opponents of the measure, which would have split Santa Clara into three voting districts, instead of its current six.

A case against the city was opened after a complaint was filed Feb. 27 by the No on C – Santa Clarans for Voting Rights Committee, led by the 49ers, along with former California Assemblyman Paul Fong, veteran Santa Clara politician Patricia Mahan and former Police Chief Mike Sellers. Still pending, that investigation will look into whether the city violated the law in its mass mailings about the measure.

But the status of that pending case was omitted in a letter sent from the city to residents last month that said the FPPC wouldn’t pursue an investigation based on a separate complaint on the same issue.

On March 25, City Manager Deanna Santana published a letter saying the FPPC rejected a sworn complaint filed Feb. 21 from Mahan, who stepped down from her role as councilmember in January for medical reasons.

Mahan’s complaint, in part, alleged the city presented biased information in support of Measure C with mass mailers circulated to residents, which cost the city around $30,000. Santana’s letter said the FPPC decided not to pursue any enforcement action stemming from Mahan’s complaint.

“I want to reassure our residents that your city officials are very knowledgeable of the election laws around the use of public funds for campaigning and mass mailing,” Santana wrote. “The mass mailing, sent by the city, involved local election information that is permissible by state law.”

City Clerk Hosam Haggag doesn’t think that omission was mixed messaging or misleading.

He expects the pending case to be closed, claiming that evidence presented is similar to Mahan’s rejected complaint. Haggag said he assumed the FPPC simply hasn’t gotten around to that case or hadn’t yet updated its status.

FPPC spokesperson Jay Wierenga was unable to provide details on the case’s status or process, but he did say teams within the Enforcement Division are made up of lawyers, investigators, auditors and support staff who take on multiple cases at a time. Those cases are open until a conclusion from the investigation is achieved, which could take months. The average case took 105 days for a decision as of last fall and two-thirds of the cases were streamlined, lower-level potential violations.

According to the FPPC website, the case portal is updated twice daily.

While the case against Santa Clara is still open and pending, so is one against the San Francisco 49ers and owner Jed York, after the city filed a complaint with the FPPC on Feb. 18.

Haggag is adamant that York’s $17,125 contribution to the No on C campaign for polling violated the city’s dark money ordinance because it was disclosed after the Jan. 31 deadline. The potential violation is non-specific on the FPPC website, listed as “Other.”

“We’re certain there is a violation, and the FPPC needs the time to do their investigation,” Haggag said Wednesday. “They confirmed that they’re looking into it and we’ve been following up, and as more violations were made, we’ve been feeding them that information.”

Rahul Chandhok, spokesperson for the 49ers, had no additional comment aside from standing steadfast behind previous actions taken against the ballot measure.

“Measure C threatens to disenfranchise minority communities and strip them of equal representation in our local government,” Chandhok said earlier this year. “It is our civic duty to fight to defeat Measure C and to take steps toward equity and equality by defending voting rights.”

Contact Katie Lauer at [email protected] or follow @_katielauer on Twitter.

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