Spending to support two San Jose mayoral candidates has reached a new height this primary election—as $1.1 million has gone toward supporting Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez.
San Jose is days away from narrowing the field for its next leader, with Mayor Sam Liccardo terming out this year. Six candidates, including some local household names, are fighting for the coveted—and expensive—seat. The four frontrunners have collectively raised $2.5 million in five months to fuel their campaigns.
Five political action committees (PACs) are pouring money into Chavez’s fight to be the mayor of the nation’s 10th largest city. The PACs—including those backed by labor and police unions, the San Francisco 49ers football team and Bloom Energy executive Carl Guardino—to make sure Chavez is the frontrunner.
Chavez’s campaign has spent about $824,000 as of May. The supervisor declined to comment.
Councilmember Matt Mahan, who’s also vying for the coveted seat, has the backing of Common Good Silicon Valley, a PAC formed by Liccardo. The PAC spent more than $360,000 in May to boost Mahan’s campaign. His campaign spent about $760,000 as of this month.
A flurry of negative ads came in this week, days ahead of the election, claiming Mahan has ties with “anti-choice Republican organizations.” Mahan refuted the claims. The mailers were paid for by the United Food and Commercial Workers Independent Expenditure PAC, campaign filings show. The PAC filed its paperwork over the Memorial Day weekend. San Jose did not upload the files until later this week.
“This is a cynical move because it’s an attempt to confuse late deciding, (less informed) voters at the last minute, at a point when it’s very hard to respond,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “What it comes down to is special interest groups backing a candidate who can’t defend her record of failure on homelessness, crime and the high cost of living, and so their strategy is to repeat the same lie over and over again in the desperate hope that it distracts voters from that failure.”
Jim Reed, Liccardo’s chief of staff who manages the Common Good PAC, said the labor unions are spending big bucks because “they’re scared to death of anybody as independent as (Mahan).”
“These are dishonest attacks dishonestly done, but sadly, they’re completely predictable,” Reed said, referring to the recent negative ads. “This is what they do to people they know they can’t control.”
“It’s always harder to get your message through when you have fewer dollars,” Davis told San José Spotlight. “As a voter, I would consider whether people who are getting (PAC dollars) are making promises behind the scenes that the voters don’t know about. I would also hope that voters would consider more heavily what the candidates are actually saying and their track records, rather than what is being spent on them.”
Chavez gets boost from both labor and business interests
Elections in Silicon Valley have gotten costly in the past, with PAC spending hitting $1.8 million in 2020. Some political observers have said this year’s election season will be the most expensive yet.
The South Bay Labor Council has been the biggest financial force supporting Chavez’s campaign, doling out more than $352,000 on mailers, phonebank and field expenses since December. It spent more than $224,000 to boost Chavez’s chances in May alone. PAC representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
Formed in early May, a PAC called “A Better Way San Jose, sponsored by San Jose Police Officers’ Association” has also spent more than $327,000 on mailers and polling to support Chavez. The PAC is funded by San Jose’s police union, the Santa Clara County Government Attorneys’ Association and the Association of Retired San Jose Police Officers and Firefighters PAC.
“We believe that Chavez is not only the most qualified and most experienced, but also has a plan to address the issues,” Tom Saggau, spokesperson of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association, told San José Spotlight. “When she was on the City Council many years ago, she left it as the safest large city in the nation. And since then, it’s public safety has gotten worse. Police staffing has gotten worse and homelessness has exploded across the city.”
A PAC backed by the 49ers football team and developer DeBartolo Corporation has spent more than $226,000 to air TV ads supporting Chavez.
Guardino, former Silicon Valley Leadership Group CEO turned Bloom Energy executive, is involved with a PAC that has spent $180,700 to get Chavez’s name in front of voters. Guardino helped Liccardo raise half a million dollars for his mayoral election in 2014.
The PAC, called “San Jose Together, Supporting Cindy Chavez for Mayor 2022,” has received $25,000 from San Francisco business executive Chris Larsen, $25,000 from Assemblymember Evan Low and $75,000 from developer Republic Urban Properties. Guardino gave $10,000 to the PAC.
Chavez also has support from a committee called “Neighbors Together Supporting Cindy Chavez for Mayor 2022.” It’s not clear who’s behind the PAC, though it lists the same officer as the South Bay Labor Council PAC. The committee, with the financial support of two unions based in Sacramento and a vice president of San Jose-based Devcon Construction, has spent nearly $88,000 on mailers and video production for Chavez’s campaign.
Mahan backed by developers, tech execs and investors
Common Good Silicon Valley, formed last year, has also been racing to spend the money Liccardo helped raise. The PAC, which is entangled in legal questions after a formal complaint questioned the impropriety of the funds, spent nearly $400,000 in May alone—with roughly $300,000 toward mailers and ads to support Mahan.
“Common Good’s goal is to keep our heads above water in the face of this tidal wave of special interest millions supporting Cindy Chavez and smearing Matt Mahan,” Reed said.
Contributors to the PAC include real estate billionaire George Marcus, venture capitalist Ron Conway’s family trust, former tech executive turned investor Michael Stoppelman, entrepreneur Joseph Green, Meta executives Monika Bickert and David Wehner and Lyft executive Tali Rapaport. Each has donated at least $20,000, campaign filings show.
Local developers such as Acquity Realty, Devcon Construction and real estate company JP DiNapoli also helped fund the PAC.