After claiming the San Francisco 49ers violated election law and threatening to contact the state’s political watchdog, Santa Clara City Clerk Hosam Haggag quietly recanted some of his accusations late Friday.
Haggag said in a news release that he won’t file a complaint with the state’s California Fair Political Practices Commission against the NFL team after confirming the city’s deadline to file campaign finance reports applies only to local candidates — not campaign committees. Haggag had accused the team of failing to disclose donations to the No on Measure C campaign.
“We have not filed any violation with the FPPC against the No on C campaign regarding these issues as it does not apply to them,” Haggag said. “We have informed the campaign committee of the same.”
Haggag’s announcement comes as the NFL team poured another $330,000 into the campaign to defeat Measure C, bringing the total contributions now to a whopping $647,125.
But Haggag accused the team of failing to report contributions of $1,000 or more within the state mandated 24-hour window, using what’s called a Form 496. However, the team filed a Form 497, records show, another campaign finance report that discloses donations of $1,000 or more.
Despite the announcement, Haggag is still pursuing another FPPC complaint over a $17,125 contribution from the 49ers for polling, which he says violated the city’s dark money ordinance and was filed after the Jan. 31 deadline.
It could take months before the FPPC makes a decision on that complaint. Jay Wierenga, spokesman for the agency, confirmed Haggag filed a complaint related to lack of filing and disclosure of campaign activity on Feb. 18 and said it’s still under review. While an investigation could take months, Wierenga said complaints must be reviewed within 14 to 28 days.
Measure C asks voters to approve halving the number of council districts for future elections – from six districts to three – after the city was sued over its at-large voting system in 2017, with plaintiffs claiming it stifled the minority vote. Opponents say if the measure is approved, it will expose the city to additional lawsuits.
Councilmember Karen Hardy last week said too much emphasis is being placed on funding and polls, as opposed to Measure C, itself.
“Even after someone was arrested for embezzlement – it took (the FPPC) six years to do anything. If they’re going to handle it, it takes quite a while,” Hardy said, questioning Haggag’s announcements on the issue. “What it’s looking like is more of a billy club to beat somebody up with.”
Hardy also expressed concern that Haggag didn’t bring up another poll about Measure C funded by the Santa Clara Police Officers Association, which some residents received in the form of a text message in recent weeks. According to POA President Sgt. Alex Torke, the POA has no position on the measure.
That poll claimed the measure would “create council districts,” but that statement is misleading since the city already has six districts in place. The poll then stated that the 49ers have spent $300,000 to defeat Measure C and Mayor Lisa Gillmor supports Measure C. After each question, the recipient was asked to indicate their views, as well as one final prompt: “Now that you’ve learned a little info, how do you feel about Measure C?”
Critics, such as Planning Commissioners Suds Jain and Anthony Becker – also a City Council candidate – have denounced this as a push poll, saying the questions attempted to sway residents to vote against the ballot measure. They demanded the POA disclose filings.
But Haggag defended the POA’s poll. Since there is no campaign supporting “Yes on C,” he said it was simply an “informational poll” and is not being used to influence the outcome of an election. He also said dark money isn’t an issue since the POA disclosed its involvement at the end of the messages.
Torke said the POA has not received any complaints on the poll.
“No on C” money continues to flow
The fight over polls and financial disclosures comes as 49ers owner Jed York on Feb. 21 donated an additional $330,000 to the campaign to defeat Measure C.
According to filing records, the money has been spent on print, television and radio advertisements, as well as polling.
York’s hundreds of thousands in funds have allowed the “No on C” committee to bankroll dozens of mailers and advertisements opposing the initiative, a position backed by a handful of local lawmakers and Secretary of State Alex Padilla. No official ‘Yes on Measure C’ campaign has been created.
“Measure C threatens to disenfranchise minority communities and strip them of equal representation in our local government,” said Rahul Chandhok, spokesperson for the 49ers. “It is our civic duty to fight to defeat Measure C and to take steps towards equity and equality by defending voting rights.”
But Gillmor said she believes the “No on C” war chest is an effort by the NFL team to gain more control in city government.
“We’ve never had this kind of money spent by a special interest in an election. I think they think maybe it is easier for them to take over the City Council with smaller districts,” said Gillmor, adding that Measure C will increase representation. “(The 49ers) want to go back to the old days where they pretty much did what they want and there was no accountability in the stadium. They want a council that reflects them.”