The San Francisco 49ers ownership group is spending millions to sway voters in Santa Clara this upcoming election, surpassing the staggering amount of money it poured into the city’s 2020 election.
CEO Jed York and the 49ers’ boundless war chest scored a big victory by breaking up Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s city council voting majority when they spent about $3 million in 2020 to successfully help three of their four preferred candidates get elected to the governing body—Anthony Becker, Suds Jain and Kevin Park.
Now, York and company have their eyes on the mayor’s seat, along with District 2 and District 3 council seats, and the playbook appears the same: Spend big or go home. The team has spent nearly $3.8 million supporting or opposing candidates in this year’s contests as of Oct. 28, and has kicked in another roughly $700,000 to spend in the last week leading up to election day. This brings the total to $4.5 million.
But they’ll have to contend with other special interest groups, including developer The Related Companies—the most significant backer of Gillmor, who helped architect the firm’s mega deal to develop 240 acres of city land. So far, Related’s spending of $250,000 is being dwarfed by the Niners.
While the football team and developers are throwing large sums into outside campaign committees to help their preferred candidates’ win with television advertisements and mailers, the candidates themselves are attracting significantly smaller donations to their own campaign committees.
Becker and Gillmor did not respond to requests for comment.
Mayor’s race money trail
Gillmor, a real estate broker who runs a property management company, has been on the council a total of 18 years. She served 12 years as a councilmember during two separate stints, and has been in the mayor’s seat since 2016.
In addition to the $250,000 from Related benefitting her campaign, the Santa Clara Police Association and the Santa Clara City Firefighters Union have both endorsed Gillmor. The police union has spent about $5,000 supporting Gillmor and about $8,400 attacking Becker through its campaign committee.
Gillmor has also raised about $40,000 through donations to her campaign, including a $12,000 personal loan.
Becker, before being elected to the council in 2020, ran unsuccessfully for mayor against Gillmor in 2018. He is being supported by a massive wave of cash from the 49ers’ campaign committees.
The team has fueled a committee formed to support Becker with nearly $1.4 million, and it has funded another committee formed to attack Gillmor with a little more than $1 million as of Oct. 28, according to campaign finance records.
Becker’s campaign, meanwhile, has only raised nearly $17,000 through direct donations in the same period. He did not loan his campaign any money.
With about 57,500 registered voters in Santa Clara, the 49ers are spending about $42 per voter to influence the mayor’s race.
A 49ers spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
District 2: McColloch challenges Chahal
In District 2, incumbent Councilmember Raj Chahal is running for his second term and is being challenged by Larry McColloch, a retired engineer.
Chahal has raised a little more than $22,000 through his campaign committee, with $8,500 coming from a personal loan. The 49ers have boosted his candidacy by pumping more than $1 million so far into two different committees the team established.
As of Oct. 28, the Santa Clara Neighbors Supporting Raj Chahal committee was formed to support the incumbent. The 49er-driven committee has been funded with nearly $657,000, while the team’s other committee—Concerned Citizens Opposing Larry McColloch—is focused on attacking Chahal’s opponent and has received about $379,000, according to campaign finance records.
McColloch has raised nearly $9,000 through his campaign committee, including a $6,000 personal loan. He did not respond to requests for comment.
Chahal said though the team is supporting him, he thinks the 49ers should not be spending money to influence local elections, nor should developers and the police union, who have long supported Gillmor in past races.
“I don’t like what’s going on. The very first day my wife saw the ads in my favor on Facebook, she was really mad,” Chahal told San José Spotlight.
He said he has voted for efforts to make the 49ers more transparent with their finances, as well as supported efforts to attempt to force the team to pay more in property taxes.
“Each and every one of my votes are in the best interest of the residents,” he said.
In District 2, where there are roughly 9,700 voters, the 49ers are spending about $107 per voter to influence the race.
District 3: Pellecchia challenges Hardy
In District 3, Councilmember Karen Hardy is running for her second term against challenger Christian D. Pellecchia, a construction company executive and adult school teacher.
Hardy, Chahal, Becker, Jain and Park have been dubbed the “49er Five” by their opponents and those opposed to the team’s significant cash infusions into local elections in the city, which has roughly 130,000 people.
The 49ers have set up two campaign committees in the District 3 race, one to support Hardy and one to oppose Pellecchia. In total, through Oct. 28, these committees have been funded with a little more than $1 million, according to campaign finance records.
Hardy has raised nearly $10,000 in donations for her own campaign, including a $3,000 personal loan. Pellecchia has raised about $13,000 in donations for his campaign, with $1,525 coming from a personal loan.
Pellecchia said he felt compelled to run for the office because no one else did, and he didn’t want to see Hardy, backed by massive spending from the 49ers, run unopposed.
“Nobody wanted to run against my opponent because of the fear of the 49ers and what they would do,” he told San José Spotlight. “It’s a David and Goliath story.”
In District 3, where there are about 9,150 voters, the team is spending about $116 per voter to influence the race.
Pellecchia said it’s clear the 49ers’ spending spree in 2020 and this election is aimed at trying to buy control of the city and its leaders.
“It’s disgusting. Money like that has never been in Santa Clara until these last two elections,” he said. “The fact that it’s happening right before all of our eyes, everybody sees it, just makes the situation so much worse. It’s all happening in plain sight,” he said.
Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter. Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.
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