The Silicon Valley Organization kills its political action committee
Terry Downing with PRxDigital talks to reporters on behalf of the Silicon Valley Organization at an Oct. 29 news conference.

    The Silicon Valley Organization is dissolving its political action committee — effective immediately — just six days after a racist attack ad it posted targeting District 6 candidate Jake Tonkel sparked widespread outrage.

    The dissolution of The SVO PAC — the primary way the business group raised money and lobbied for or against candidates — means it must cease all campaigning activity during a high-stakes election year.

    The SVO PAC was the top influencer this election, spending $588,672 to push its political agenda in the San Jose City Council District 4 and 6 races.

    This image on the website of The Silicon Valley Organization prompted an outcry.

    Major organizations including Comcast, PG&E, Santa Clara Valley Water District, Kaiser Permanente, Lockheed Martin, SPUR and the California Apartment Association severed ties with The SVO. Many more local nonprofit groups publically rescinded their memberships on Oct. 29 shortly after CEO Matt Mahood and at least three board members resigned.

    The same day, SVO announced it would conduct an independent investigation into how the image was posted. The organization will release the findings Nov. 10 and plans to create a diversity and inclusion advisory board to prevent future “unacceptable” content, according to Terry Downing with PRxDigital, a public relations firm hired by The SVO.

    Since the ad’s release and prompt removal, members of the San Jose City Council and other local leaders have gathered to denounce The SVO and call for more businesses and nonprofits to cut ties.

    Assemblymember Ash Kalra said The SVO policies and tactics have only created more division in Santa Clara County.

    “I’m so grateful for companies and nonprofits that have pulled their membership,” Kalra said during a news conference Nov. 2. ”The policies The SVO supports against minimum wage, against affordable housing, against worker rights creates more poverty and creates the need for more nonprofits so if you want to uplift our community, we need nonprofits and companies to stand together.”

    Assemblymember Kansen Chu and Berryessa School Board Trustee and City Council District 4 candidate David Cohen were also among those who spoke at the news conference. Cohen criticized SVO for targeting elected officials who are struggling to bring resources to those who need it most. SVO spent more than $200,000 opposing Cohen’s candidacy, for fear Cohen would raise taxes in San Jose.

    “Realtors say a $79-a-year parcel tax is unjust, while the cost of a house in our district has increased by $400,000 during my time on the school board,” Cohen said, adding the money spent on attack ads could have been used to better serve residents during the pandemic.

    Corina Herrera-Loera, Alum Rock School District Board Vice President, said SVO’s content has impacts beyond the campaign trail and could hurt the next generation of children of color.

    “This cannot be shown to our children that are watching,” Herrera-Loera said. “Our children are sacred. Our children are brown and beautiful.”

    This isn’t the first time the business group has posted questionable or racist campaign images and ads.

    In February, the group darkened the face of a Latina lawmaker — San Jose Councilmember Sylvia Arenas — in a campaign ad that was called racist.

    The group faced similar allegations in 2016 when it darkened an image of Councilmember Sergio Jimenez and doctored an image of council candidate Kalen Gallagher in 2018 to look like he’s flipping off the camera. The SVO leaders blamed third party vendors — website consultants and administrators — for the racist images related to Tonkel and Arenas.

    A recent San José Spotlight report found the organization continued to work with a consultant it blamed for the racist image of Arenas. The SVO official still won’t say who is responsible for the racist image related to opposing Tonkel.

    How The SVO will support candidates in future elections remains unclear now that the PAC is dissolved. Garrick Percival, associate professor of political science at San Jose State University, said the PAC will mostly likely rise from the ashes with more oversight in place.

    ”They’ll reorganize — probably under a different name, under different leadership,” Percival said. “Certainly, business interests will continue to have a major stake in what governments do at the federal state and particularly here at the local level. They’re still gonna be big players. I’m confident of that.”

    This story will be updated.

    Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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