Call It a Wash

Election season brings about some odd transfers of money when it comes to political contributions, and maybe no stranger transaction took place last year than the $4,000 the San Jose/Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee (ChamberPAC) returned to the Santa Clara Valley Water District in August. According to standards set by California’s Fair Political Practices Commission, a public entity is forbidden from contributing to any PAC, while the IRS says schools and charities risk losing their tax exemptions if they give money to PACs that support political candidates—which the ChamberPAC certainly does. Rick Callendar, who handles govt. relations for the Water District, says a mistake was made when the Chamber transferred $4K of the Water District’s membership dues—$17,500 annually—over to its PAC. Callendar says the Chamber’s attorneys noticed the indiscretion and the money was returned, which Chamber VP Pat Sausedo noted in an email was “cleaner” than having the Water District write a new check to cover the difference in dues. Other public entities listed on the PAC’s semi-annual disclosure form that probably shouldn’t have had money directed to the Chamber PAC include: Santa Clara County Office of Education, School Health Clinics of Santa Clara County, Santa Clara County (twice), Bellarmine Prep, the Diabetes Society, San Jose Unified School District, and San Jose/Evergreen Community College. All these organizations had modest contributions—usually $35—but only San Jose Unified and San Jose/Evergreen had their money returned. That could be because the actual Chamber acted as an intermediary in the other contributions to the PAC. Of course, this doesn’t, under the law, necessarily clear the taxpayer-funded benefactors from the campaign law violations.

The Fly is a weekly column written by San Jose Inside staff that provides a behind-the-scenes look at local politics.

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