Santa Clara County supervisorial candidate Otto Lee loaned his own campaign a staggering $460,000. Now his rival Kansen Chu wants to know if that money is clean.
In a recent Facebook post, Chu demanded Lee disclose his income taxes and posted photos of his own 2019 federal tax returns. Chu, an assemblymember, challenged the the former Sunnyvale councilman and mayor to reveal the source of the $460,000 he loaned his campaign between Jan 1. and Sept.19.
“This campaign should be about our vision and direction for our county,” Chu wrote in the Facebook post. “Instead, it’s been about negative campaigning. We deserve better than dirty tricks and dark money.”
Mr. Otto Lee. I am posting my 2019 federal tax return to the public. With it, I am posting your 2020 FPPC Report from…
Chu’s demands come as the two prepare to face off for Dave Cortese’s District 3 seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors Nov. 3. District 3 includes Milpitas, Sunnyvale and parts of San Jose. Chu narrowly beat Lee in the March primary by less than 3% of the vote.
Chu told San José Spotlight he’s asking Lee to disclose this information in the name of “clean money and campaign transparency.”
“There is no one way we can verify that that money is actually his personal money,” he said. “I think the voters have a right to know that the money is his own and not channeled through him from some other interest group.”
According to the most recent campaign filings, Lee raised $638,017, including the $460,000 in personal loans, and spent $559,883 by Sept. 19 this year. Meanwhile, Chu raised $219,113 and spent $231,513, with no personal loans.
While Santa Clara County caps donations to supervisorial campaigns at $1,000, there is no limit to how much a candidate can loan his or her own campaign.
Lee’s campaign asserted Chu’s request is an attempt to distract from his own campaign finance investigation.
“Mr. Chu is currently under investigation by the FPPC for multiple campaign finance violations — including use of Assembly campaign funds while campaigning for supervisor,” said Lee’s campaign manager Mark Tiernan. “Two weeks before the election, he seeks to deflect the spotlight on his 4th campaign finance investigation of his campaign finances by accusing his opponent of the corrupt behavior that he himself is doing. The timing and tactics are exceptionally Trumpian.”
Lee’s campaign added that the $460,000 loan came from his own personal funds, earned over the course of his 25-year career in law and service in the Navy.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission opened an investigation into Chu’s fundraising in September after receiving a complaint alleging that Chu violated campaign finance laws by using his Assembly campaign committee bank account to get around supervisorial campaign contribution limits.
The complaint, filed by former Assemblyman Paul Fong, claimed that Chu used part of his Assembly campaign funds to send a mailer to District 3 voters outside his Assembly district.
“Mr. Chu’s claims about his finances being 100% clean money are ridiculous. These attacks are the desperate efforts of a candidate with three FPPC fines on his record and is under investigation again,” Tiernan said.
But Chu told San José Spotlight in August that Fong filed the complaint because he is a “kind of mentor” to Lee and that it is merely a smear tactic.
“I’ve got nothing to hide,” he said. “The FPPC is (looking) into it, but I’ve got nothing to hide.”
Contact Devin Collins at [email protected] or follow @dev_collins2 on Twitter.