Ethics Complaint Filed Against Four Santa Clara Candidates
Related Companies Consultant Named in FPPC Complaint Against 4 City Council Candidates, Expenditures Unreported, Grand Jury Foreman Linked to Candidate
By Carolyn Schuk
A complaint filed with California’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) this week alleges that well-known South Bay political consultant Jude Barry, a government relations consultant for The Related Companies, has been providing un-reported political consulting to Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s slate of candidates for City Council.
Related is developing a 239-acre multi-use project, City Place Santa Clara, on the current municipal golf course. The mega-developer has been Barry’s client since 2012, when he met with community representatives and members of the press,* to build support. Barry lists only one client on his 2015 Santa Clara lobbyist report: Related.
Campaign Reporting Failures “Pervasive”
The FPPC complaint, filed by attorney John Mlnarik who lives and has his office in Santa Clara, makes allegations against candidates Debi Davis, Teresa O’Neill, Tino Silva and Kathleen Watanabe; the Santa Clara Police Officers Association PAC; and political committee Stand Up For Santa Clara.
Mlnarik said his reason for bringing the complaint was “to call attention to the alleged widespread and pervasive failure or refusal by local Santa Clara public officials, council candidates and certain organizations to report political campaign contributions and expenses as required by local and state law.”
The complaint alleges that the candidates and political committees failed to properly report campaign expenditures, that Stand Up for Santa Clara breaches the legal “firewall” that’s supposed to exist between independent expenditure committees and candidates, and tha the candidates failed to disclose Barry’s services as a campaign consultant.
Davis, O’Neill, Silva and Watanable have “informed numerous members of the public that Jude Barry is providing professional campaign advice” to them and their campaigns, said the complaint. “Yet there is no report” of them “paying for Barry’s services.”
“If Barry is not being paid for his consulting services, an in-kind contribution from Related Companies would be required as Barry is being paid to act as a political operative in Santa Clara.” The complaint notes that the vote to approve City Place took place two days before the end of the first 2016 election reporting period.
All of the candidates voted for or endorsed the City Place project; although this Council has voted down or demanded repeated costly redesigns of almost every building project from a house remodel to a 400-unit downtown revitalization project that fell through as a result of Council micromanagement.
Barry a Longtime Figure in South Bay Politics
Barry has been playing in the sandbox of South Bay politics since he ran former San José Mayor Ron Gonzales’ 1988 campaign for Board of Supervisors. He subsequently served as Gonzales’ chief of staff where, according to his bio, he “helped craft” Santa Clara County’s first ethics law.
Barry managed Gonzales’ successful mayoral run in 1998, and continued in his role as chief of staff, resigning in 2000. Barry is generally regarded as being extremely media-savvy. The Metro’s Fly wrote in 2000, Barry “would be fingered by his peers as the source anytime embarrassing stories appeared in the newspaper about Gonzales’ foes.”
Barry went on to run Steve Westley’s unsuccessful campaign for governor. In 2010, the California Labor Federation blacklisted Barry when the electronic signature-gathering software company he co-owned, Veriform, provided services for what was seen as an anti-union ballot measure. Barry also founded another online service, Voterpros, that provides campaign strategy and content templates, and mass mailing services.
Barry was also one of the consultants hired by the Yes on J committee in 2010 – Gillmor was the committee chair. And Davis, Gillmor and Watanabe appeared in TV ads promoting Measure J, the referendum approving Levi’s Stadium.**
For about two years Barry was part of San José Mayor Sam Liccardo’s “kitchen cabinet” – a role more than few have suggested he now plays for Gillmor.
Routine Campaign Expenditures Missing
The other expenditures missing from campaign spending reports – and they are so similar that it suggests the four candidates are getting their advice from the same source – include lawn signs (Silva, O’Neill), voter and precinct data (Davis, Silva, Watanabe, O’Neill) and website and online services (Davis, Silva). Expenditures must be reported if they’re over $100 for the six-month reporting period.
Davis, Silva and Watanabe use the NationBuilder campaign management platform for their sites, which includes a free voter database as part of its service. A basic subscription is $29/month – $348/year – for 5,000 contacts.
But Davis and Silva don’t report any NationBuilder expenditures. Nor do they report their spending for the online ads that pop up in Google searches. Watanabe lists all these expenses, so it’s reasonable to assume that Davis and Silva are spending similar amounts.
O’Neill’s website is built on the open source software, which is free.
The Santa Clara POA PAC, for its part, failed to report an opinion poll it conducted last June, reported in the Mercury News.
Grand Jury Foreman Conflict of Interest?
Silva lists $3,000 in expenditures to Sketch-Artist LLC for literature and “campaign paraphernalia/misc.” Sketch-Artist’s owner, Gil Zamora, was foreman of the civil grand jury investigating allegations that Santa Clara wasn’t correctly reimbursed for public safety expenses. The grand jury’s report, signed by Zamora, recommended the City conduct a Measure J audit and present the findings in an open, public meeting.
A former San José police officer, Zamora is a forensic artist, and his website says that he “provides forensic art services to law enforcement, attorneys, and the community at large.” The site says nothing about campaign materials.
Walks Like a PAC, Talks Like a PAC, It’s A PAC
A visit to Stand Up For Santa Clara’s website shows it’s hardly a non-partisan community benefit organization.
Although “it is not registered or reported as any type of campaign spending committee … it is functioning like one,” the complaint says. “It is expressly communicating to Santa Clara voters through its website, social media and public events” and is attempting to influence the outcome of city elections by actively making candidate endorsements.
Further, the complaint alleges that the organization violates the Political Reform Act for failing to adhere to Independent Expenditure Committee “firewall” requirements. This requires independent expenditures “be made without consultation, cooperation or coordination with the affected candidate,” says the complaint.
“However, Stand Up for Santa Clara co-founder Tino Silva is one of the City Council candidates the organization is advocating on behalf of,” it continues. “Additionally, political consultant Jude Barry is working with Stand Up for Santa Clara in its capacity as an Independent Expenditure Committee and is advising Santa Clara City Council candidates Silva, Debi Davis, Teresa O’Neill and Kathy Watanabe.”
Barry is a friend of the group, and his website is linked to theirs (standupforsantaclara.com/heyjudebarry).
As the WEEKLY reported last week, Secretary of State records show no Statement of Organization for Stand Up for Santa Clara, and searches of IRS tax-exempt organizations and the Attorney General’s charities database return no results. Mlnarik’s complaint concludes, “Stand Up for Santa Clara lists itself as an ‘LLC’ on its homepage, although a business search of Secretary of State records does not return any results.”
The candidates “say they want more transparent government,” said Mlnarik in an interview on Monday with the WEEKLY. “They just don’t want it for themselves.”
Mlnarik ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2012 against O’Neill. During the campaign it was charged that he would have a conflict of interest serving because at the time his wife worked for Devcon construction, one of the partners in Turner-Devcon, the company that built Levi’s Stadium.
*Barry and Related VP Steve Eimer met with the WEEKLY in June 2012, and held a press conference in Feb. 2013.
**Search YouTube on SCforProgress.