San Jose councilmembers last year fundraised nearly $3.7 million for community events, ballot measures, candidates and other causes. But most of the checks came at the request of Mayor Sam Liccardo, who made up 93 percent of the council’s fundraising efforts.
San Jose requires its lawmakers to disclose their fundraising each quarter. The form divulges when a donation was solicited, who it was solicited from, the amount and what the funds ultimately went toward. There are no restrictions to how much they can fundraise, as long as the proper rules around disclosure are followed.
But with 2018 being an election year, the stakes were higher and Liccardo helped secure roughly $3.3 million dollars. According to his forms, more than $2.7 million of that supported ballot measures, while $63,300 went to candidates and independent expenditure committees. Councilmember Raul Peralez fundraised the most after Liccardo with $97,793.83 – mostly for community causes and events.
“I raised much more than any councilmember because under the law and longstanding tradition, the mayor ‘shall be political leader’ of the city, according to City Charter Section 501 – not any individual councilmember,” Liccardo told San José Spotlight. “In other words, the buck stops with me.”
During the last election, Liccardo led efforts to pass Measure C, an initiative to protect the city’s employment lands, Measure T, a public safety bond and Measure V, an affordable housing bond. He also was influential in the Regional Measure 3 campaign, which aimed to address much-needed transit improvements for Bay Area roads and highways.
Liccardo estimates that he raised more than $2.7 million since he contributed several hundred thousands dollars from his mayoral campaign account – information that is disclosed on his campaign finance forms. But 2018 was not the first time that Liccardo geared up to raise millions for a win at the ballot box.
In 2016, he led the charge on three city measures, as well as a VTA measure he fronted with Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO Carl Guardino. The mayor raised more than $924,000 by Nov. 2016, the majority of which supported a city ballot initiative that enacted a pension settlement with labor unions.
Liccardo, however, suspects that he expelled more time and effort into raising funds for the 2018 election cycle.
“I likely spent more time and did more fundraising in 2018 because we faced very serious, well-funded opposition to 2018 Measures B and C, in which developers outspent us by millions,” he said. “I also knew that Measure V — the affordable housing bond — would be a very close call, based on our polling.”
Funding community events
Besides Liccardo, Councilmembers Dev Davis and Peralez were the only other councilors to fundraise for election-related issues. Davis raised $1,500 for the Measure B and C campaigns, while Peralez raised $6,750 for Esparza’s campaign and $900 for Andres Quintero’s run for a seat on the Alum Rock Unified School District board. Quintero now serves as Esparza’s chief of staff.
The remaining councilmembers – minus ousted Tam Nguyen – raised funds exclusively for community events like Celebrate Cambrian in District 9, the 11th Disability Awareness Day and Village Fest. Nguyen raised nothing in 2018 and could not be reached for comment.
The top donor last year was Kieu Hoang, a Vietnamese billionaire and part owner of Shanghai RAAS Blood Products. He donated $200,000 to the Yes on Measure T campaign — at Liccardo’s behest. Essex Property Trust, Chan Zuckerberg Advocacy and The Sobrato Organization were also top donors, shelling out $100,000 to help pass Measure V. Laurie Dachs posted $100,000 for Save the Bay Action Fund – also at Liccardo’s request.
One of the most recognizable donors to city events last year was Google. Councilmembers Sylvia Arenas, Davis and Peralez all disclosed donations from the tech giant – months before voting to sell 10 acres of public land to the company for its downtown mega campus.
Google sponsored Day in the Park and the Rose, White and Blue parade for $10,000 each on behalf of Arenas and Davis, respectively. The Mountain View-based company also spent $5,000 to sponsor San Jose Jazz, at Peralez’s behest. All three councilmembers insisted there’s no conflict of interest.
“We often reach out to organizations that are financially capable to invest in our community organizations,” Peralez said. “I made an introduction between San Jose Jazz and Google. San Jose Jazz still had to make the request of Google to invest in their organization and to what amount.”
Arenas added that the city’s Day in the Park event for Evergreen residents is free – and sponsorships keep it that way.
“Last year, Google chose to join the event and I was glad to have their participation,” she said. “We had a number of sponsors that range from community based organizations like the Health Trust to local labor unions such as Plumbers and Teamsters.”
Davis said that Google wanted to show community support by sponsoring the Rose Garden-based parade.
“I simply connected them with the organizing committee for the parade,” Davis said. “I didn’t personally benefit from their support of this community event.”
Although Liccardo only fundraised $70 for a community clean up event, he said he focuses his efforts elsewhere – championing issues like San Jose Gateways and San Jose College Promise.
“I focus my fundraising on initiatives to which I’ve publicly committed, rather than on events, because those initiatives reflect my priorities — such as boosting educational opportunities for low-income youth, reducing homelessness, and confronting climate change,” the mayor said.
Learn more about how much each councilmember fundraised below:
Contact Grace Hase at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @grace_hase on Twitter.