By Robert Haugh
The Mission City may be the first city in the nation to prohibit “dark money” in city politics. This is good news for good government and clean politics. This is bad news for organizations and individuals who want to spend money on elections, but hide the source of the contributions — like the 49ers.
In 2016, the notorious BluPAC was formed to spend money in Santa Clara elections. The organization had lots of ties to the 49ers, like local political consultant Rich Robinson.
BluPAC and the team’s political effort backfired in 2016. The dark-money campaign supported these candidates for council:
- Patty Mahan (close victory)
- John McLemore (loss)
- Ahmad Rafah (loss)
- Mohammed Nadeem (loss)
They also supported Mike Sellers for re-election for police chief (razor thin victory).
Their website promoted Rod Diridon, Jr. and Dominic Caserta, too.
In 2016, BluPAC claimed it spent approximately $49,000. That kept them under the state dark money law that requires disclosure once an organization spends more than $50,000. But they were fined by the city after the election for failing to report. That should have put them over the limit. Our sources say that the California Fair Political Practices Committee is investigating BluPAC, but they are not moving quickly.
In 2018, if BluPAC or the 49ers attempt to do the same thing, they will have to report their donors if they spend more than $100. Santa Clara’s dark money law has a much lower bar than the state.
Not surprisingly, at Tuesday’s Council meeting, Caserta and Mahan who were both supported by BluPAC and the 49ers in their past elections, tried to poke holes in the proposed ordinance.
Caserta wanted to make sure that the ordinance would not impact his current County Supervisorial campaign or independent expenditures which he’s currently receiving. He questioned City Attorney Brian Doyle for about two minutes before backing down quickly. You can watch here at the 36:00 mark.
Mahan even tried to change the name to rename the ordinance to say it’s a clean money effort at the 43:30 mark. That went nowhere.
The idea for the dark money ordinance came from the Ethics Committee where Mayor Lisa Gillmor and Councilwoman Debi Davis asked staff to draft it.
The council approved it unanimously. Kudos to city staff and the city council for taking this major step to clean up Santa Clara Elections.