One Santa Clara County lawmaker owns stock in more than 60 companies, including tech giants like Apple, Google and Facebook as well as gas and utility companies such as Chevron and Exelon.
The review of public stock holdings for Santa Clara County’s Board of Supervisors follows an April analysis of San Jose councilmembers’ stock portfolios. That analysis found one elected leader, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, owned more stocks than all the other members combined. He later shed most of his stock options, holding on to just eight including the controversial data-mining company Palantir.
At the county level, Board President Mike Wasserman, has far and away the largest stock portfolio of any board member.
- Abbott Labs, a pharmaceutical company.
- Advanced Micro Devices, an infotech company
- AMC Entertainment
- Alibaba Group
- American Electric Power, a utility
- Bank of America
- Applied Materials
- Berkshire Hathaway
- Bristol Myers Squibb
- Citi Group
- Coca Cola
- Cisco Systems
- Consolidated Edison, a utility
- DTE Energy, a utility
- Danaher Corp, a life sciences companies
- Duke Energy, a utility
- Exelon, a utility
- Goldman Sachs
- First Energy, a utility
- Home Depot
- JPMorgan Chase
- Kimberly Clark, a consumer goods company
- Johnson & Johnson
- Kimco Realty, a real estate investment trust
- Kraft Heinz
- Lending Club,
- Mondelez International, a confectionary food maker
- Nikola Motor Company, a zero-emissions vehicle manufacturer
- Morgan Stanley
- Nvidia, an artificial intelligence company
- PNC Financial, a bank
- Regional Financial, a bank
- Procter & Gamble
- Southern Company, a utility
- Southern Copper, a mining company
- United Health Group
- Viatris, a healthcare company
- Wells Fargo Bank
- Zynga, an online game developer
Last year, Wasserman disposed of stocks in Evergy, a utility, and Maxim Integrated, an integrated circuits maker.
Wasserman also reported income from a client, Caw Properties, that he served through South Bay Consultants, a property management firm for which he is the sole proprietor. He also received income from a family trust that owns five rental properties
Stock options for elected officials can become a conflict when they have to step away from votes involving companies they’ve financially invested in. That could be viewed as a conflict of interest. In San Jose, two councilmembers were forced to walk away from a vote on hazard pay for grocery workers at the last minute and it appears no one at City Hall is checking for such conflicts before an item is discussed.
Wasserman has recused himself at least once from a vote. In Dec. 2020, he recused himself from a vote on considering protections for essential workers in the fast food industry because he owned stock in McDonalds.
Several investments did not appear on Wasserman’s public disclosure forms. In an email to San José Spotlight, Wasserman said he has invested in several cryptocurrency stocks, including Coinbase, Riot Blockchain and Grayscale. Wasserman did not immediately respond to questions about why they do not appear on his forms.
It’s unclear what obligations elected officials are under when it comes to reporting cryptocurrency. Jay Wierenga, a spokesperson for the California Fair Political Practices Commission, said officials must submit a document known as a Form 700 that reports their financial interests as “completely as possible.” But the Political Reform Act doesn’t explicitly address reporting for cryptocurrency.
“The FPPC Legal Division has given informal advice on the subject in the past to treat it like a stock in a business,” Wierenga told San José Spotlight, meaning it should be disclosed. “We always tell public officials that it’s better to over report than under report, to encourage transparency, and if they choose, to disclose things that might not necessarily be required in an effort to show transparency and diligence in adhering to the requirements.”
Other members of the Board of Supervisors reported fewer financial interests in 2020 than Wasserman.
District 2 Supervisor Cindy Chavez, is invested in two stocks that are held in her spouse’s individual retirement account, Apple Inc. and Pacific Financial Corporation, a regional bank.
Chavez did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
District 3 Supervisor Otto Lee holds no stocks, according to public records. Lee is the managing partner of an intellectual property law firm, Intellectual Property Law Group, located in San Jose.
“I would say that these disclosure rules sometimes could be quite detailed, and I think sometimes it’s really important to not assume you know what the rule is,” Lee said. “We always consult with the legal counsel to make sure we’re doing something right.”
Susan Ellenberg, supervisor for District 4, did not own any stock in 2020, according to her disclosure statement. She did report income from a limited liability company called Palms Santa Clara that owns an apartment complex. Her husband is the member of an LLC that is invested in a different apartment complex.
Ellenberg said she’s never had to recuse herself from a vote.
In 2020, District 5 Supervisor Joe Simitian has stock in Outreach Circle, a relational organizing platform, but his disclosure states that he has no ownership interest or business position in the company. He also reported stock in Apple, AT&T and Johnson & Johnson that were held in IRAs. Those stocks were disposed of in early 2020, according to the disclosure.
Simitian told San José Spotlight he has recused himself from votes over the years, but he could not recall off-hand which ones.
“Over the years you learn to pay careful attention to when and where you might have a conflict of interest, and if and when you do, you recuse yourself consistent with the requirements of state and local law,” Simitian said. “Occasionally, it can be tough to get an absolutely clear answer—some of these conflict questions can be complicated—so you err on the side of caution.”
County Counsel James Williams said supervisors receive training on how to comply with financial disclosure rules to avoid running into conflicts of interests with their votes.
“It’s a comprehensive two-hour training and covers quite a range of topics,” Williams said. He added that elected officials are required by state law to state their recusal on the record if an item appears before them for a decision that they have a financial interest in.
These recusals are memorialized in the minutes of county meetings. But there appears to be no systematic way of tracking compliance.
“We do not have a separate tracking system for recusals outside of the minutes,” said Deputy County Executive Megan Doyle.