A group of Santa Clara councilmembers have filed three ethics complaints against a political organization linked to Mayor Lisa Gillmor, including a state complaint naming her.
Councilmembers Anthony Becker, Suds Jain and Kevin Park are raising concerns about Stand Up for Santa Clara, claiming the 501(c)3 nonprofit is violating the city’s “dark money” rules by operating mostly in secret, and possibly running afoul of state political finance laws.
The local ordinance, in place since 2018, includes “robust disclosure requirements” for political activity to help ensure voters know who is spending money to influence local elections. Anyone donating $100 or more to any group or organization that spends money to sway voters must report their identities to the city.
The trio filed a complaint about the political group with Santa Clara’s city clerk and attorney this week, according to documents reviewed by this news organization. They also sent a similar complaint to California’s Fair Political Practices Commission, the state’s watchdog for campaign finance violations, about the group and Gillmor.
Lastly, the councilmembers are questioning whether the group is a bonafide 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, filing a complaint with the IRS asking for an investigation into the issue.
“Stand up for Santa Clara’s political actions are neither transparent nor honest,” Becker, Jain and Park wrote in their complaint to the city. “We want the Santa Clara City Clerk’s office and Santa Clara City Attorney’s office to conduct a thorough inquiry into the violations of the Dark Money ordinance by Stand up for Santa Clara.”
Jain told San José Spotlight he and the other councilmembers who filed these complaints are hoping to expose what they view as double standards in Santa Clara politics by Gillmor and her allies.
“It just seems to me the other side is constantly accusing us of violating ethics, and we are now starting to go on the counteroffensive,” Jain said. “There are active campaigns for people calling for us to be recalled and to resign, and we’re just fighting back.”
Gillmor did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Stand Up for Santa Clara’s Facebook page contains dozens of posts demonizing Becker and his allies, and promoting Gillmor. It ran a series of paid political ads the last few years.
In one such ad, the group called on Becker to resign after he was indicted for allegedly leaking a civil grand jury report about five councilmembers’ cozy relationships with the San Francisco 49ers, and then lying about his actions.
The councilmembers say the group doesn’t display a FPPC number which is required for political advertisements and hasn’t filed documents disclosing where its money comes from.
Stand Up for Santa Clara’s website says it was launched in 2015 by residents Burt and Vickie Field, Tino Silva and Steve Robertson, and characterizes itself as “a grass-roots watchdog organization dedicated to educating and engaging Santa Clara citizens.”
Those residents are staunch supporters of Gillmor and the mayor recently defended Field when he was ousted from the parks and recreation committee.
Field did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But Becker, Jain and Park claim the group doesn’t file proper paperwork to show who is supporting or funding it.
“There are no disclaimers, no filings with the City Clerk’s office or the state,” the complaint to the city reads. “Essentially this is dark money because no one knows who is funding them and how they are paying for their political ads.”
Among other concerns raised by the councilmembers is that Gillmor owns the building where Stand Up for Santa Clara lists its address at the Franklin Mall—though the complaint alleges the specific address doesn’t appear to exist. A letter mailed to the group was returned as undeliverable.
“Is (Gillmor) coordinating with this nonprofit? Is this nonprofit supporting her as a candidate, in which case it’s a serious violation of nonprofit status,” Jain said. “She doesn’t report any meetings with Burt Field on her calendar. It raises a lot of questions about transparency.”
While Stand Up for Santa Clara says it is a “registered Non-Profit 501(c)(3) Corporation” on its website, the councilmembers claim the group is not listed in public IRS databases for nonprofits.
If the group is a 501(c)(3), the councilmembers say it appears to be violating laws that prohibit such organizations from “directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”