The San Jose mayoral race is just getting started, but lobbyist donations are already flowing in.
Of the nearly $1.5 million raised last December for the San Jose mayoral race, about $44,000 came from lobbyists or their firms. Donors distributed funds almost evenly between the four leading candidates: San Jose Councilmembers Matt Mahan, Dev Davis and Raul Peralez and Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez.
Peralez ranked at the top of lobbyists’ contributions with $11,850 from 13 donors. Davis received $11,400 from 13 donors, Chavez got $10,844 from 12 donors and Mahan $9,700 from 16 donors, according to San José Spotlight’s review of campaign disclosures filed Jan. 31.
Some lobbyists said their job is not necessarily to get a certain candidate elected, rather it's to make sure their relationships with politicians remain on good terms.
“My policy is if they ask for a donation, for help, then I give it to them,” prolific lobbyist and land use consultant Erik Schoennauer told San José Spotlight. “We work with everybody at the city and the county and we wish them all well.”
Schoennauer, one of the more active lobbyists in San Jose, donated the most money in the first month of campaigning. He gave the maximum amount of $1,400 to the four leading candidates, noting they all asked for a donation.
He's a partner at The Schoennauer Company founded by his father, Gary, who served as the city’s planning director for decades. The duo has extensive experience in land use policy and a personal relationship with Mayor Sam Liccardo.
“What I know about candidates is that if you do not give them the full amount the first time, they will come back and ask for it later,” Schoennauer said. “So I just get ahead of it.”
Armando Gomez, a San Jose employee for 16 years turned community relations lobbyist, is second to Schoennauer in terms of donations. Gomez runs his own consulting firm and represents Robinson Oil Corporation, Waste Connections, Robson Homes and Go Puff. He donated $4,700 total, giving $1,400 to Davis, Mahan and Peralez and $500 to Chavez.
He said he gave less to Chavez because he hasn’t worked with her much given that she's a county official.
“Usually the criteria (for me) is, do I know them? Do I hold them in high regard? And what their platform is,” Gomez said. “I look for somebody who’s going to fix the process of City Hall.”
It's not that Chavez doesn’t fit the criteria, he said. In fact, he donated $500 to her because he felt bad donating to everyone else except her. He said she also did not ask him for a donation like the other candidates.
Four other lobbyists each contributed $4,200 for mayoral candidates in December: Eddie Truong, Sean Kali-rai, Jerry Strangis and Richard De La Rosa. They each gave three of the four leading candidates the max amount.
Truong, who represents Westgate Church, HCA Healthcare and the Silicon Valley Restaurant Association, and Kali-rai, one of the valley’s most prolific cannabis lobbyists, donated $1,400 to each candidate except Chavez. Kali-rai did not respond to a request for comment.
Truong, like Gomez, decided not to give to Chavez's campaign partly because he hasn't worked with her before.
"It's not personal," Truong told San José Spotlight.
Strangis, a land use lobbyist and consultant with Strangis Properties who represents clients such as Samsung, KB Homes and MTA Properties, gave $1,400 to every candidate in December except Mahan. He told San José Spotlight he contributed to Mahan's campaign in January.
"I know these people, I think they're all very qualified. So I'm simply supporting them so they can run a campaign," said Strangis, noting he makes his contributions as a San Jose resident first.
De La Rosa donated $1,400 to every candidate except Mahan. He represents California Waste Solutions, Firefighter Air Coalition, Rescue Air Systems, RAI Services Company, Urban Catalyst and one cannabis business—Canna Culture—through the consulting company he founded, Forest Consulting. De La Rosa declined to comment.
Truong said for lobbyists, the general consensus is if they are asked to donate, they will do it.
“I've learned with fundraising and donations people tend to be more appreciative if they ask for it directly," Truong said. “The way I see contributions is that it is a relationship-building tool.”
Schoennauer echoed that sentiment and pointed out many lobbyists have their own techniques.
“Some lobbyists like to pick a candidate and fund them. Others give multiple contributions like we do,” he said.
Most of the campaign contributions were made by individuals, but four came from lobbying firms.
Canyon Snow Consulting donated $1,400 to Chavez and $100 to Mahan and Davis. The firm is run by Leslee Guardino, spouse of Carl Guardino—a close friend of Liccardo, former Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO and current Bloom Energy executive. He endorsed Chavez last year, which surprised some since he tends to support business-leaning candidates. The California Apartment Association, which represents the rental housing industry, gave the maximum amount to Mahan and Davis and did not donate to the other leading candidates.
Three lesser known mayoral candidates—Former Nevada congressional candidate Jonathan Royce Esteban, former marriage counselor Tyrone Wade and political unknown Brian Smith—have yet to file campaign disclosures.
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.