Millions of dollars have gone into Silicon Valley’s open congressional race, but only a fraction has come from political committees.
Of the 11 candidates running to replace Rep. Anna Eshoo in California’s 16th congressional district, only four have received funding from political action committees (PACs) as of the Dec. 31 reporting deadline — Assemblymember Evan Low, former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, Palo Alto Councilmember Julie Lythcott-Haims and marine veteran and tech entrepreneur Peter Dixon.
So far, combined PAC contributions only make up $56,000 out of a multimillion-dollar race, calling into question what other financial sources are supporting the candidates.
“I really don’t think (PAC spending is) very significant,” Larry Gerston, political observer and San Jose State political science professor emeritus, told San José Spotlight. “They’re drawing money from more traditional sources.”
Candidates at the local, state and national level face a variety of contribution limits — at the national level, those are established by the Federal Election Commission. Individual donors can contribute up to $3,300 per election to a candidate, and the commission views the primary and general elections as separate. PACs can only contribute up to $5,000 per election.
Gerston said independent expenditure funds, better known as super PACs, could be involved in this race. Super PACs are barred from directly donating to candidates, but can spend an unlimited amount of money to support or oppose candidates.
Some committees are formed around supporting candidates from specific communities or candidates that support those communities, such as CAPA21, which supports Asian American Pacific Islander candidates and allies, and Equality, which supports LGBTQ+ candidates and allies.
Low received the most contributions from PACs, $30,600 out of $889,893 raised, which came from various committees, including $5,000 from CAPA21 and a combined $9,000 from three Equality PACs.
Among Low’s contributions was another type of PAC, referred to as a “Leadership PAC,” which is a committee established by or connected to another political leader so they can support other candidates without those funds coming from their own legally authorized committee. This included a PAC affiliated with California Rep. Mark Takano, whose district includes Riverside, Moreno Valley and Jurupa Valley, and another affiliated with New York Rep. Richie Torres.
Each gave $5,000 to his campaign, and both representatives officially endorsed Low for the seat.
“Evan has more congressional endorsements than the rest of the race combined, which prepares him with the relationships to hit the ground running and get things done in Congress,” Low’s campaign spokesperson Clay Volino told San José Spotlight.
After Low is Liccardo, whose campaign has raised more than $1.6 million and received $10,500 from PACs. This is a drop in the bucket for the campaign, according to spokesperson Julie Edwards. She also said the most PAC money Liccardo received was from groups he worked with as mayor.
“We made a commitment not to accept any money, PAC or otherwise, from big oil and gas,” Edwards told San José Spotlight. “We accepted two contributions totaling $10,000 from two large employers, (Hewlett Packard Enterprise) and Cal Water, who Sam worked with as mayor on issues ranging from transportation to campus expansions to employee safety.”
Liccardo also received $500 from “G PAC,” which is affiliated with former Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, according to the campaign transparency nonprofit OpenSecrets.
Dixon received $10,000 from the With Honor PAC, which supports bipartisan veterans. It’s the political action arm of a nonprofit Dixon helped found in 2017, With Honor Action.
Campaign spokesperson Taylor Hebble said With Honor supports candidates across both sides of the aisle who work to uphold the Constitution, and that Dixon is grateful for the group’s support.
“It shows that he is someone who is dedicated to defending democracy, dedicated to defending the Constitution that he swore an oath to and (to) serve his country once again,” Hebble told San José Spotlight.
Lythcott-Haims raised a total of about $374,896, with $5,000 coming from Purpose PAC, affiliated with New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. He also endorsed Lythcott-Haims for the seat.
Lythcott-Haims told San José Spotlight that she looks up to Booker as a leader and is honored by the support.
Because PAC contributions were relatively low compared to the totals raised, Gerston said there are likely other sources of support for candidates, including independent expenditure funds or candidates loaning money to their campaign. Identifying these organizations can better portray who is supporting who.