Special interests lining up to sway San Jose’s 2022 elections
A San Jose resident drops off her ballot in the 2020 election. File photo.

    Elections in Silicon Valley might be a year away, but special interest groups are already lining up to spend big bucks on their favored candidates.

    In 2022, many major offices are at stake. San Jose will have a new mayor, and two San Jose City Council colleagues are already jockeying for it. San Jose will elect representatives for five council seats — Districts 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 — with candidates already announcing a run in East San Jose, downtown and the West Side, a shift that could topple labor’s current 6-5 majority. An open seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in District 1 has already drawn many familiar faces, including Johnny Khamis, Claudia Rossi and Rob Rennie and Richard Constantine.

    And for the first time, longtime countywide elected officials such as District Attorney Jeff Rosen and Assessor Larry Stone face formidable challengers.

    The races next year will be expensive, and most campaign contributions flow from labor unions and business leaders who also funnel campaign cash through independent expenditures and political action committees, or PACs, which often spend money on mailers supporting or opposing candidates.

    While individuals have contribution limits of $600 per San Jose City Council candidate and $1,200 for mayoral candidates, there’s no spending limits under federal law for independent expenditures running political ads in support of a favored candidate.

    PAC spending skyrocketed last year with special interest groups collectively spending $1.8 million on two contested City Council races. The now-defunct Silicon Valley Organization PAC spent more than half a million dollars in the 2020 races for San Jose City Council District 4 and District 6, followed by the South Bay Labor Council, which spent about $400,000 in the same contests.

    SVO leaders dissolved the PAC last November after fallout over a racist campaign ad posted on the business group’s website.

    Now that the SVO’s PAC is gone, many political insiders are wondering who — or what — might replace it. A likely replacement could be the Business San Jose Chamber PAC, a committee formed in 2019 to endorse business-friendly candidates. The group consists of members who broke off from the SVO PAC years before it dissolved and are typically more conservative.

    The Business San Jose Chamber PAC only spent about 15% of what the SVO PAC did in the 2020 council races, but the group’s leaders say they’re prepared to fill the void left by the SVO to back business candidates.

    “It’s not necessarily what the candidates are going to raise, but rather who else can they get to support them—who could actually send mail pieces on their behalf,” said Victor Gómez, the PAC’s executive director.

    Derrick Seaver, CEO of the Silicon Valley Organization, confirmed there are no plans to resurrect the dissolved PAC.

    “That will not be a thing that happens in 2022,” Seaver told San José Spotlight.

    The Business San Jose Chamber PAC is preparing to host the committee’s first major political event of the season next month.

    Gómez said he anticipates raising half a million dollars at the in-person social where one of the committee’s trustees will host a car show and wine tasting for politicos who may seek the PAC’s support.

    “We’re still a few months out before we make a decision as to who we’re going to endorse,” he said. “I don’t think the business-friendly candidates are going to lose out (without the SVO PAC). If anything, I think now we’re going to have two PACs become a super PAC and actually have even more strength as one united front.”

    Business groups aren’t the only ones gearing up for next year’s election season.

    The San Jose Police Officers’ Association has already jumped into the fray. The group recently launched a website called “Shocking Khan,” which attacks Santa Clara County District Attorney candidate Sajid Khan for his stance on defunding police and his opposition of the recall campaign against Judge Aaron Persky. The police union spent more than $400 this past week on Facebook ads opposing him. Khan last week announced his run against the previously-unopposed Rosen.

    Last year, the police union spent $231,939 on opposing San Jose City Council District 6 candidate Jake Tonkel with attack ads alleging he would raise taxes.

    According to the Facebook Ad Library, residents viewed two opposition ads against Khan from Protect San Jose—run by the police union —as many as 30,000 times on apps including Instagram and Facebook.

    Khan said he expected opposition ads to surface after announcing his bid against Rosen—who’s faced no opposition in his three terms in office.

    “This so-called police union putting out misleading and inflammatory rhetoric against me, on the eve of and on the day of my (campaign) launch, is indicative of their fear,” Khan told San José Spotlight. “That being said, we’re ready to work with police officers that are invested and committed to the dignity and safety of our community.”

    Tom Saggau, spokesperson for the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, said more digital ads and sponsored posts are coming, and that the association will continue updating its existing ad campaigns.

    “I feel like we’re promoting his agenda, but we felt it was important folks know exactly what he stands for,” Saggau told San José Spotlight.

    San Jose City Council candidates are allowed to begin fundraising 180 days before the primary, while Santa Clara County candidates can fundraise year round. Candidates who have announced are now grabbing as many endorsements as they can.

    “It’s about a six month period (for council candidates) to raise around $140,000 or $150,000,” Gómez said. “Not only that, you have to start building endorsements because in San Jose one of the most important things is, as you know, (having the most) political activity.”

    Editor’s Note: Victor Gomez serves on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.

    Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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