Mayor Sam Liccardo may be leaving San Jose City Hall next year, but the longtime politician isn’t ready to give up power.
The city’s top lawmaker wants to have his finger on the pulse of the City Council—and even potentially pick his replacement. Liccardo formed a political action committee in late October to influence the consequential elections next year, San José Spotlight has learned. The committee is called “Common Good Silicon Valley, supported by Mayor Sam Liccardo,” documents filed with the city and the Secretary of State show.
Liccardo and his chief of staff Jim Reed confirmed forming the PAC. They said the group has big plans for Silicon Valley politics, and is still working to establish a board and its bylaws. Liccardo’s group raised nearly half a million dollars to support his favored political candidates — in one day.
“We’ve created a PAC to support candidates who are housing friendly and jobs friendly, and pragmatic,” Liccardo exclusively told San José Spotlight.
Common Good Silicon Valley also seeks to endorse city and county candidates who are “not controlled by special interests,” Reed said.
“We’re most interested in finding people who are collaborative, who are willing to work together to solve our problems,” Reed said. “We’re not looking for people who agree with us 100% of the time. We’re looking for people who have the courage to do the right thing for housing and jobs.”
A heated election season
Liccardo’s PAC joins Silicon Valley’s political scene as next year’s election season heats up. In June, San Jose will choose a new mayor to succeed Liccardo and representatives for five council seats in districts 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9. That means nearly half the City Council could be replaced by new faces. And the race to replace Liccardo is already teeming with South Bay political giants like Supervisor Cindy Chavez, and Councilmembers Raul Peralez, Dev Davis and Matt Mahan.
The 2022 races will also be the first since the dissolution of the Silicon Valley Organization PAC, one of the most powerful political spenders in the South Bay. The PAC, which supported Liccardo and many of his business-friendly allies, was terminated after fallout over a racist campaign ad posted on the business group’s website.
Now, Common Good Silicon Valley is poised to be the next big PAC for the region’s business lobby— competing with the other powerhouse in local politics: Labor unions.
Despite its new profile, Common Ground Silicon Valley is bound to be a formidable force. When the group quietly hosted a fundraising event in early November, it raised roughly $400,000 from 350 attendees, Reed estimated. The VIPs who swarmed the fundraiser? Wealthy developers, real estate moguls and business executives who attended the mayor’s annual breakfast fundraiser for SVO, which has since rebranded to the San Jose Chamber of Commerce.
“It was the biggest fundraising success that has been seen in this valley, or at least in San Jose, in the last 10 years that I’ve been active here,” Reed said.
He would not say who its donors are, but the PAC must disclose them by the end of January, per campaign laws.
Liccardo, who has a track record of being business-friendly and endorsing candidates who align with those special interests, claims his committee won’t follow in the SVO PAC’s footsteps.
“We’re doing different things and our alignment is different,” the mayor said. “We’re not the same organization, and we’re not connected to the chamber.”
Balancing the power
Elections in the South Bay often turn ugly—and costly. The now-dissolved SVO PAC, representing business interests, spent $588,000 in independent expenditures for the 2020 general election. The largest PAC that supports labor candidates, South Bay Labor Council, shelled out $430,000 in last year’s November election. They were by far the biggest spenders in the election.
Since the SVO PAC disbanded, Silicon Valley has yet to see a comparable replacement for the business community—making the labor camp potentially the most prominent political force this election.
Common Good Silicon Valley appears positioned to challenge the labor movement’s influence, undoubtedly shaking up the 2022 elections.
“There are powerful special interest groups that exercise disproportionate influence in this county,” Liccardo told San José Spotlight. “It’s important that they’re not the only voice in local government or local politics. It’s important that we have candidates who are supportive of jobs, supportive (of) housing and are pragmatic and independent of powerful forces such as special interest groups who are focused on their narrow issues.”
Leaders of the labor unions remain skeptical of the mayor’s PAC.
“Calling the same thing by a different name doesn’t change its purpose,” Jean Cohen, executive officer of the South Bay Labor Council, told San José Spotlight. “Unlike this new iteration of the SVO PAC, the Labor Council’s political program is accountable to 100,000 working class people, while the mayor is accountable to wealthy donors.”
No ‘slash and burn’ politics
The creation of Common Good Silicon Valley also raises questions about how it might work with—or compete against—the Business San Jose Chamber PAC. Formed in 2019, the PAC consists of members who broke off from the SVO PAC years before it dissolved. They are typically more conservative.
Its executive director Victor Gomez previously told San José Spotlight his PAC aspires to be the next big player representing business candidates. It spent just roughly 15% of what the SVO PAC did in the 2020 council races.
Liccardo’s PAC has not decided who to support—or oppose. Reed said the group will look for “pragmatic” leaders, citing labor-aligned Councilmember David Cohen as an example. Cohen last year defeated Councilmember Lan Diep, who was endorsed by Liccardo and mostly voted with him.
Cohen’s election shifted the power dynamics of the 11-member City Council, flipping the narrow 6-5 majority in favor of labor.
“David was endorsed by labor… but David is a pragmatic guy who’s always listening and open to a good policy idea,” Reed said. “To me, it doesn’t matter what David’s label is.”
Common Good Silicon Valley also vows to help elect lawmakers in “an ethical way,” Reed said. That could mean no attack ads.
“We’re gonna be the opposite of a ‘slash and burn’ political action committee that exists solely to pump out misleading information every two years,” Reed said. “If we’re serious about being collaborative and working with people who don’t always agree with us, that means we have to conduct campaigns that reflect those values.”
Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.
Editor’s Note: Victor Gomez serves on San José Spotlight’s board of directors.