San Jose election spending reached all-time high in 2022
A mail-in ballot box at the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters on Nov. 8, 2022. File photo.

Campaign funding flooded into San Jose elections in 2022, making that cycle the most expensive in city history.

A report compiled by transparency watchdog Maplight found mayoral candidates and individuals vying for five San Joes City Council seats raised more than $7 million collectively in 2022, an all-time high. That amount omits independent expenditures, which spent exorbitantly in the same elections.

The Maplight report found a total of $7,021,227 was raised across every candidate running for all San Jose city offices in 2022. It also found that 16%, or about $1,123,396, came from special interest groups, like companies or political action committees (PACs).

Only looking at direct candidate contributions obscures the amount spent by independent expenditure committees, or super PACs, according to Larry Gerston, political observer and San Jose State political science professor emeritus. He said it doesn’t provide a full picture.

“We need to recognize that it’s becoming more and more difficult to really understand where the money comes from,” Gerston told San José Spotlight. “We don’t know to what extent money determines the outcome of an election, but at least if we understand where it’s coming from, that can help us understand more about what these candidates are all about.”

Gerston said super PACs are important for understanding candidate values in a race. Regarding 2024’s race in Congressional District 16, he said committees spending directly on candidates are less impactful than the amount spent by super PACs. Super PACs are barred from directly donating to candidates, but can spend an unlimited amount of money to support or oppose candidates.

The report did not include super PACs, citing they are unrelated to policy changes.

On the contrary, Gerston said seeing how super PACs spend money can show what special interests back which candidates.

“The more we know about the resources that are used to promote a candidate, the more we know about the candidate,” he told San José Spotlight.

The 2022 elections had millions flowing from super PACs, especially in the mayor’s race between Matt Mahan and Cindy Chavez, where super PACs spent upward of $4 million. These committees were funded by some of Silicon Valley’s wealthiest companies and organizations from the San Francisco 49ers to Bloom Energy, as well as networks of labor and police unions.

When digging into the mayor’s race, the report found Mahan received the most support from individual donors. His campaign raised a total of $2,476,493. He received $2,227,299 from individuals during the 2022 race, with $1,394,095 coming from San Jose residents. By comparison, Chavez raised $2,148,480, with $1,660,080 from individuals and $892,197 from San Jose residents.

“Although winning candidates in 2022 did not necessarily receive the most contributions in their respective race, they all raised sufficient funds to be competitive,” the report read. “When a small voter base is deciding the victor, enthusiastic individuals in a compact geography can make a big difference.”

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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