San Jose is on a path to close an election loophole that former Mayor Sam Liccardo and his right-hand man used to raise more than $1.5 million to fill seats on the City Council.
The city is looking to prohibit elected officials and their staff from working on political action committees (PACs) that raise money for local races. This move comes after residents and city leaders questioned the extracurricular political activities of Jim Reed while he served as Liccardo’s chief of staff. The council voted 8-1-2 on Tuesday to change city laws, with Councilmember Bien Doan dissenting and Councilmembers Sergio Jimenez and Omar Torres absent. The law is slated to take effect by August, pending final approval.
Current city policy only prohibits someone running for office—a candidate—from working on PACs. The definition of “candidate” would be redefined to include elected city officials, their employees and any City Hall employee. The shift would align San Jose with state law.
Reed and Liccardo raised nearly $1.5 million from wealthy landowners, developers and business executives through their political action committee Common Good Silicon Valley. Most of the dollars went to support Mayor Matt Mahan’s bid for the city’s top seat. Reed is now Mahan’s chief of staff. And while his fundraising involvement was allowed then, it could soon violate city policy.
Mahan and Reed previously told San José Spotlight no one on the mayor’s staff will be working on a local PAC while Mahan runs for reelection in 2024. Reed said he volunteered for Common Good and never received payment for his work. However, councilmembers want to expedite the rule change to take effect by August when election season officially starts.
“The importance of maintaining the integrity of our political system and preventing corruption and undue inputs from special interest groups is paramount,” Councilmember Domingo Candelas said. “That’s ultimately what we’re doing, protecting the public trust in our government.”
Former Councilmember Maya Esparza was one of the first to call on the city to change local election laws last November, after she lost her reelection bid to Doan. She was one of the candidates that Reed and Liccardo’s PAC spent money against.
Several residents called out Reed by name at Tuesday’s council meeting. John Tucker, a union member of MEF-AFSCME Local 101, said he’s particularly concerned with Reed’s political activity because having wealthy contractors donate to Common Good could curry favors from the mayor’s office. He pointed to two different contractors that donated $10,000 each to the PAC: California Waste Solutions and GreenWaste Recovery Inc.
“Bully for Jim Reed who abused this loophole to get his candidate elected and keep his own job in the process,” Tucker said.
Tucker said the policy change would help eliminate the perception of favoritism and potential corruption at City Hall.
Esparza also directed the city to explore banning elected officials and city employees from working at a local PAC for a specific period of time after they leave the position, also known as a revolving door policy. However, the city attorney’s office said the idea could violate their First Amendment rights to participate in local elections. Councilmembers deferred further discussion of the policy until August.
Matthew Alvarez, board member of the California Political Attorneys Association, said the changes would be unconstitutional during last week’s Rules and Open Government Committee meeting. Alvarez works at the Sutton Law Firm which represents Common Good.
“The city has no compelling interest to prevent employees from participating in their personal time on whatever campaigns they wish and in whatever capacity they wish,” Alvarez told councilmembers. “This is basic First Amendment law 101 and the city is completely ignoring it.”
The first hearing of the local election rule changes is June 13 and the council will vote on June 20. If approved, the rule will go into effect on July 20. Learn how to watch and participate.
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.
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