City Council Review: Campaign Expenditure Limits Lowered for Council Districts

By Robert Haugh

The City Council unanimously adopted a Political Campaign Voluntary Expenditure Limit and Campaign Contribution Limit for the November 3, 2020, General Municipal Election.

The voluntary expenditure limit for city-wide races was increased from $45,590 to $46,420 and will apply to the contests for Mayor, City Clerk and Police Chief. Only Police Chief Pat Nikolai will be on the ballot this November.

The City uses an index from the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Consumers to adjust the limit on city-wide contests on an annual basis.

A separate voluntary expenditure limit for council elections was set at $25,000. This will apply to the six council districts that are each only one-sixth of the City. It was previously the same as the much larger city-wide races.

But Councilman Raj Chahal did not think the $25,000 limit was enough money to run a council campaign. He suggested increasing it by 20 percent. His idea received no support.

Contribution limits were set at the following levels:

  • $630 for candidates who accept the voluntary expenditure limit
  • $310 for candidates who do not accept the voluntary expenditure limit

November Elections

In addition to the Police Chief election, four council races will be on the ballot.

In District 1, Councilwoman Kathy Watanabe will be running for re-election.

In District 4, Councilwoman Teresa O’Neill will be running for re-election.

In District 5 and District 6, the seats will be open. 

Patty Mahan resigned earlier this year for health reasons and Councilwoman Debi Davis is not running for re-election.

We’ll be writing more about these races and the candidates in the coming months.


  1. A $25,000 ceiling for campaign contributions in a district election is a fair amount. It is a little more than half of the $46,420 for city wide races while maintaining city wide $630 for candidates who accept the voluntary expenditure limit. This works and limits the special interests and makes district elections cheaper and what I feel is more effective. This year will be a big test.

    Yet I do understand Councilmembers Hardy and Chahal’s concerns with the ceiling this year. With the current pandemic and the possibility of shelter-in-place getting extended campaigning will be a lot tougher and harder. Most will have to be social media and by mailers, but it ain’t cheap.

    -Social Media ads on facebook and google is $$$$
    -Ads in a printed paper is $$$$
    -Flyers and anything paper to drop on doorsteps to practice social distancing is $$$$
    -Mailers, let alone just one is super expensive, this election you may need up to 3 because of social distancing that is more $$$$$$$$
    -Website costs $$
    -Yard Signs, which may be more expensive this election due to possibility of material costs going up…. one may also need more yard signs to have for advertising because of lack of personal interaction due to none other than social distancing.
    -Zoom costs or any visual platforms to connect to voters.

    So I could see the concerns this election with $25,000 ceiling…but it is fair and it works. It just means having a tighter belt on costs. It would be first election in Santa Clara history based on E-campaign types.

    I heard council member Watanabe say she did it on $13,000 budget which is true but the Independent Expenditures helped her a lot… I should know, since I ran a small grassroots campaign running against her unsuccessfully…..those mailers from PAC’s for Kathy were consistent and helped immensely. Nothing wrong with that unless you point fingers at others for doing the same.

    one other thing I will note is that with these tough times economically….lots of residents will be hesitant to open their wallets to donate to a political campaign, especially if they are struggling or out of work due the effects the pandemic has caused.

    A side note…. there is error in your report. Pat Nikolai is not the only city wide race this year, there is city clerk election too, as this is to fulfill a full term as 2018 election for City Clerk was to fill the remainder of a term when Rod Diordan Jr. resigned.

    I look forward to your fair and balanced coverage of the 2020 election and all the candidates.

    #Election2020 #District6 #Becker2020 #PandemicElection #WeLoveSantaClara #CampaignSeasonBegins #SantaClara #MissionCity #CampaignTrail

    • Yep, you’re right, Anthony! 49er BluPac definitely helped get Teresa, Debi and Kathy elected in 2016! Hundreds of thousands of $$$ wasted!! Whoops! #NeverForget #DarkMoney #FollowTheMoney #NeverAgain #3TimeNotACharm

    • First of all I never said it was bluePac
      Second, It was Police PAC backed by developers that helped get the trio elected.

      Look it up, proof is there

      It’s the same as bluePac

      Can’t point one finger and say that it’s wrong while they do the same thing… that’s called hypocrisy.

  2. 25K isn’t enough? Didn’t the No on C supporters justify their position going to 6 districts saying it would be cheaper to run a campaign?

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