By Robert Haugh
The Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce continues to make waves, even though it’s pretty clear that it’s boat is sinking. They lost their “management fee” in May.
But on July 27, Chamber CEO Nick Kaspar sent a letter to the business community. He wrote:
As you no doubt have heard or seen in the media, our Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce has had some challenges with the City of Santa Clara for much of the past year.
Specifically, the City has challenged our management of both the Santa Clara Convention Center and the Convention-Visitors Bureau (CVB). It is curious why the City would choose this path as both management agreements have been long standing and have, by all accounts, served the City of Santa Clara well in terms of increased revenues and positive exposure.
Note to Kaspar: Read the City staff reports. A city audit came up with some preliminary findings of mismanagement and malfeasance.
We were scratching our heads after some people sent us the letter. We’re guessing people at City Hall were doing the same. That’s probably why City Manager Deanna Santana sent out a letter to the business community on August 15. She listed some pretty damaging stuff:
- Material inconsistencies were found between the Chamber’s federal filings (e.g., Form 990: Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax) and the practices that the Chamber claimed to have in place with the City to protect against conflicts of interest.
- There is a long-standing practice that the Chamber (since the Convention Center opened), on its own initiative, grants 20% discounts to Chamber members that rent Center space without any public disclosure, approval, or reporting of lost revenue to the City.
- There is preliminary evidence that the Chamber grants itself complete discounts on space rental for Chamber events and only pays for food and beverages, including major Chamber fundraising events, providing significant financial value to the Chamber.
- These discounts were not disclosed to the City and the value of the discounts, which is lost public revenue funds, has not been determined. Analysis is underway to determine whether this is a material conflict of interest and/or self-dealing; whether Board members used their role to benefit each other; and/or, a violation of State law with respect to political fund-raiser(s) held at the City-owned Center.
The final audit should be finished next month. We’re guessing more info — and more letters will be coming.
Changes at the Chamber
Our sources inside the Chamber have told us about some major changes. Longtime Treasurer Dave Tobkin has left the organization. Neither Tobkin or Kaspar would comment why. The Chamber currently has no one listed as “Treasurer” on their website.
They’ve also listed Lou Mariani (as “Lou Marianin”) as Government Relations Committee Chair. We talked to Mariani (with one “n”) last week. Even though he’s head of Government Relations, Mariani says he’s stepped down from the PAC. He’s pushing a major development at the Mariani Inn site and the PAC has made some big political mistakes over the last couple years that he’s trying to get away from.
Speaking of the PAC, they’re having a BBQ fundraiser tomorrow — or maybe not. The “5th Annual BBQ” invite is still online. But no one seems to know anything about it. They also mispelled former City manager Don Von Raesfeld’s name wrong here (they use “Raesfeldt”). We’re told it never really got organized because of all the changes at the PAC and turmoil at the Chamber. Looks like they won’t have much money going into the November 2018 elections.