Dark Money Matters
By Robert Haugh
“Dark Money” played a significant role in Santa Clara’s 2016 elections, as recently disclosed campaign expenditure reports reveal.
BLUPAC, a San Francisco-based “non-profit civic research organization,” spent $49,264.97 to support and oppose city council candidates. All of that money was paid to Southern-California slate mailer organization Citizens for Economic Council. But no one knows who the funded the majority of the campaign because BLUPAC won’t reveal their donors. Since they are a non-profit organization, they are allowed to keep donor information confidential if they spend less than $50,000. They kept their expenditures, at least the ones they reported, just under the cutoff. Interesting.
Here is how the money was spent:
- $8,210.83 – supporting John McLemore
- $5,649.58 – opposing Debi Davis
- $8,210.83 – supporting Patricia Mahan
- $5,649.58 – opposing Tino Silva
- $8,210.83 – supporting Police Chief Mike Sellers
- $3,333,33 opposing Pat Nikolai
- $3,333.33 – opposing Kathy Watanabe
- $3,333,33 – opposing Suds Jain
- $3,333,33 – opposing Deborah Bress
Also, interesting is the fact that BLUPAC touts on their website other candidates (Rod Diridon, Jr., Mohammed Nadeem, Ahmad Rafah) but did not declare any expenditures on their behalf. They also tout councilman Dominic Caserta who was not up for election.
BLUPAC was created at the end of 2015 and has not engaged in any political activity, except Santa Clara city council races. BLUPAC hasn’t published news since Oct. 26, 2016 and has not updated their website with any issues. This leads us to believe that BLUPAC was formed simply to sway 2016 City of Santa Clara elections.
They didn’t do a very good job as their candidates lost badly (McLemore, Nadeem, Rafah) or were candidates who should have won with bigger margins since they had good name identification but just barely made it (Mahan, Sellers).
So who’s behind the mysterious organization?
According to Stand Up for Santa Clara, a grassroots group that formed to protect Santa Clara’s Youth Soccer Park, it’s the 49ers. However, the evidence they cite is circumstantial:
- Doug Chan, a San Francisco attorney who founded BLUPAC is listed as the “corporate attorney” for Rich Robinson’s political consulting operation.
- Robinson is a consultant or ally of many of the BLUPAC candidates like Diridon and McLemore.
- Robinson has also done political work for the 49ers.
They’ve documented the connections in a nice chart on their website: http://www.standupforsantaclara.com/money_laundering_in_santa_clara
But today, we don’t really know if the 49ers are the mysterious funders. Most knowledgeable people in the political and media community think they are, because of the circumstantial evidence and the simple fact that the team won’t say one way or another if they’re involved. You would expect that if they were not, they would just say it, rather than have their reputations trashed.
The Fair Political Practices Commission has made an issue of how Dark Money in California politics is destructive and should be eliminated. So let’s hope they investigate BLUPAC and let Santa Clarans know the truth.