Outsiders pour millions into San Jose mayor’s race
San Jose Councilmember Matt Mahan and Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez at a candidate forum hosted by San José Spotlight on Sept. 15, 2022. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    Special interests’ spending on the San Jose mayoral race has exceeded $5 million—with most of the money coming from outside the city.

    After more than a year of campaigning, Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and San Jose Councilmember Matt Mahan are locked in a heated, costly—and at times, ugly—competition, with Mayor Sam Liccardo terming out at the end of the year. The pair beat out four other candidates in the primary election.

    At least six political action committees (PACs) have spent big to boost Chavez’s fight to be the mayor of the nation’s 10th largest city. Their spending, totaling $3.4 million since last December, dwarfed the financial support Mahan’s campaign has received at around $1.7 million from three PACs over the same period. In total, special interests have doled out more than $5.1 million on the two mayoral candidates—making it one of the most expensive races in city history.

    A San José Spotlight analysis finds the majority of that money comes from wealthy tech executives, developers and powerful labor unions in San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Clara and Los Angeles. In some cases, financial support is from Texas, New York and Illinois. According to this news organization’s review of the five PACs that have spent the most on the mayoral candidates this election season, only about 13% of the contributions given to them have come from San Jose.

    Chavez said the reason big spending is coming from outside of San Jose is because the new mayor will help shape not just the economic health and wellbeing of Silicon Valley, but the state and country.

    “The state of California is teetering on becoming the fourth largest economy in the world, and this is the third largest city in the state (so it is) an economic engine,” Chavez told San José Spotlight. “If you think about the important educational institutions between San Jose State, Stanford, Berkeley and Santa Clara—one of the strongest community college systems in the nation is here.”

    The biggest PACs supporting Chavez include those backed by labor and police unions, and the San Francisco 49ers.

    The South Bay Labor Council PAC has spent $1.1 million supporting Chavez since she launched her campaign last year—thanks to contributions from Sacramento-based SEIU Local 521 and California Labor Federation, San Francisco’s PG&E and SEIU United Healthcare Worker in Los Angeles. The four organizations gave between $75,000 and $258,000 this year, and some of the money has been funneled to different local races—not only the San Jose mayoral race.

    Chavez’s campaign also saw roughly $708,000 of support from the 49ers—all coming from Santa Clara.

    PACs money is flowing

    The PAC run by the San Jose police union, A Better Way San Jose supporting Chavez for Mayor 2022 sponsored by the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, has kicked in $976,000 for Chavez. Roughly 40% of the money, or $392,000, comes from the Santa Clara County Democratic Party in Sacramento and a Sacramento-based special interest group, “Neighbors Together Supporting Cindy Chavez for Mayor 2022.” The union contributed $270,000 to the PAC itself.

    Tom Saggau, spokesperson for the PAC, said it spent the money to inform voters on Mahan’s record. The PAC doled out more than $100,000 in the past week on videos and TV ads opposing Mahan’s campaign.

    “It is not negative or mudslinging, rather, it is an important deliverable that our PAC has undertaken so that voters know the truth about Matt Mahan selling out to the NRA and on abortion for money,” Saggau told San José Spotlight. “Voters have the right to know.”

    Outside groups backing Mahan have also seen huge chunks of money coming from outside of San Jose. Common Good Silicon Valley, the PAC formed by Liccardo and now run by his chief of staff Jim Reed, saw its biggest contributions coming from San Francisco, Capitola and Foster City. The PAC has spent more than $1 million on boosting Mahan’s campaign or research it shared with other Mahan- supporting PACs since December, but it also funded mailers and texts in other local races.

    Reed, who heads Common Good, said he can’t comment on why donors outside of San Jose contributed to his PAC.

    “The status quo special interests are looking for somebody to do their bidding, and they know they’ve found that in Cindy Chavez,” Reed told San José Spotlight. “Chavez lapping the field in special interest funding is about as surprising as the sun coming up in the morning.”

    The PAC’s biggest contributions came from two executives of real estate firm Legacy Partners—including Mahan’s uncle Ed Thrift who gave $100,000, and rideshare app Lyft executive Tali Rapaport. They all live outside of San Jose and gave $100,000 each to the PAC.

    The Santa Clara County Association of Realtors, funded by the National Association of Realtors PAC based in Chicago, also kicked in $530,000 to attack Chavez in October.

    Mahan said his campaign hasn’t seen a fraction of special interest money compared to Chavez.

    “Change is on the ballot and only our campaign (offers) concrete, common sense plans for change,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “We were outspent by the special interests, but we were never outworked.”

    Follow the money in all the major Silicon Valley races.

    The election is Nov. 8.

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter. Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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