Funds from two local non-profit health care foundations made their way to phone banks and mail campaigns of the South Bay Labor Council in 2012 after routing the money through a Measure A’s campaign committee.
Non-profit organizations are prohibited by law from using their tax-exempt donations to support campaigns of candidates for office. They may, however, support ballot initiatives. The eventual recipients of some of the funds engaged in both types of activities.
Both the VMC Foundation—which raises money to support the county’s public hospital system—and the Santa Clara Family Health Foundation gave more than a quarter-million dollars each last summer to support an 1/8th cent county sales tax measure, Measure A.
It’s impossible to know whether the funds benefited any candidate campaigns after the money moved out of Measure A committee bank accounts because neither nonprofit’s executives—nor the labor-aligned political organizations that conducted the campaigns—are willing to discuss how the funds were used and how decisions were made.
Chris Wilder, executive director of the VMC Foundation, said his board will not agree to discuss or release meeting minutes of its vote to give $289,000 to the pro-Measure A “Committee for the Future of Santa Clara County.” The tax measure passed in November, with 56.6 percent of the vote.
“It’s not a precedent we want to set,” Wilder said, before adding that the board vote was unanimous.
Kathleen King, who sits on the VMC board and is executive director of the Santa Clara Family Health Foundation, provided even fewer details. Her foundation gave $250,000 to the “Yes on A” push, but King denied a request to see her organization’s meeting minutes and cancelled an in-person interview in favor of an email exchange.
“I discussed your request for a copy of our minutes with my chair (Dana Ditmore) and he did not want to do this,” King wrote in correspondence with San Jose Inside. “He serves on many boards and his answer was no.”
A representative of GuideStar, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes accountability in the nonprofit community, said the organizations were not required to release their minutes. Guidestar spokesperson Lindsay Nichols noted, however, “A transparent organization would give it to you.”
An incestuous tangle of organizations, directors and consultants characterized the transactions, with common decision-makers on both the giving and receiving ends.
During a three-month window last year, from August through the end of October, the VMC Foundation and SCFHF contributed a total of $539,000 to the “Yes on A” committee, whose goal was to raise the county sales tax and, by extension, fund the county Health and Hospitals System, which eats up about half of the county’s $4.1 billion annual budget. Ongoing budget cuts have threatened health initiatives for children and low-income families in Santa Clara County.
Former San Jose vice mayor and South Bay Labor Council CEO Cindy Chavez currently heads up the nonprofit SBLC-linked Working Partnerships USA (WPUSA). She also sits on the SCFHF board as well as the board for the Health Trust, another not-for-profit organization that directly partners with and funds WPUSA.
Last October, the “Yes on A” committee made two $45,000 payments to the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council Issues Account, which Chavez helped oversee at the time.
In addition, Chavez’s Working Partnerships USA appears to have received $378,000 from Health Trust. In 2002, Health Trust awarded WPUSA a grant “to enroll uninsured contingent workers in Silicon Valley in a subsidized health plan and to research portable health insurance options.” In fical year, 2010, Health Trust awarded $78,000. The most recent publicly noted transaction was a $150,000, 24-month grant for WPUSA’s Healthy Eating Strategies project “to increase the availability of healthy foods at small retail outlets (i.e. corner stores) in high poverty census tracts through the adoption of a County Healthy Corner Store Policy.”
SBLC’s issues committee also received tens of thousands of dollars from other PACs that wanted to increase San Jose’s minimum wage (Measure D) and the number of card room tables in the city’s two casinos (Measure E). Campaign disclosure documents show that the SBLC Issues PAC then took the $90K from “Yes on A” and, in turn, provided the county sales tax committee with $92,414.26 in non-monetary services, such as “salary, overhead, office & phone bank expenses,” according to campaign forms.
Meanwhile, the SBLC Issues PAC says it spent more than $177,000 in non-monetary contributions last year for Measure D and $44,000 on Measure E. Many of the transactions were to purchase food for campaign volunteers and it’s impossible to sort out which measures or candidates benefited from the volunteers’ political activities.
Also during the first few weeks in October, the “Yes on A” committee routed $350,000 of the contributions to AMS Communications, Inc. of San Francisco. Formed in 1992, AMS shares an office building and at least one principal with Ambrosino, Muir & Hansen (AMH), a San Francisco-based political direct mail firm whose clients, in addition to the county sales tax measure, include Bay Area congressmembers Lynn Woolsey and Zoe Lofgren, Senators Tom Daschle and Harry Reid, and Presidents Obama and Clinton.
King said that “over 700K mailers for Measure A” were sent out by AMH, which partners with local political consultant Ed McGovern. McGovern told San jose Inside he worked on Measure A and Measure E campaigns, but not Measure D.
The money trail becomes even trickier to track once it went to AMH, as printing and mailing houses are ironically notorious for eating up paper trails.
Both Wilder and King say there was no hidden motive in using SBLC resources to boost Measure A, even if there the respective boards share interlocking directors. Assemblywoman Nora Campos, Cindy Chavez, and Kathleen King and Chris Wilder all sit on the Santa Clara Family Health Foundation’s Board of Directors, while King sits on the VMC Foundation Board.
“Our job as a foundation is to support the Santa Clara County Health and Hospital System, and that’s half the county’s budget,” Wilder said. “We did this because, and only because, we thought it was a great way to fund county health.”
“(South Bay Labor Council) didn’t lead it,” he added. “They certainly did a lot of groundwork for it.”
But in a YouTube video published Jan. 13 of this year, newly installed SBLC CEO Ben Field talks with Steve Preminger, chair of the Democratic Central Committee. In the video, replete with a very ’80s Night Court intro theme song, Field goes on record about Measures A and other initiatives, saying:
“The field campaign was run to a large extent by the Labor Council.”
In addition to the ballot measures, SBLC supported 70 candidates for local and regional offices in the November election.
Nonprofit organization (Federal Tax ID 77-0187890) raises donations on behalf of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (VMC) and Santa Clara Valley Health & Hospital System. “Foundation seeks funds for programs that support community well-being, improve the quality of care and promote access to medical treatment for all residents of Santa Clara County.”
Total 2010 Revenue: $4.8 million
Total 2011 Revenue: $10.5 million (includes a $5 million donation from the Sobrato Foundation)
El Camino Hospital
Kaiser-East Bay Community Foundation
Sobrato Family Foundation
Santa Clara Family Health Foundation
Total 2011 Revenue: $1,291,304 (source: Guidestar)
Blue Shield of California Foundation
The California Endowment
Cisco Systems, Inc.
City of Cupertino
City of Los Altos
City of Milpitas
City of Mountain View
City of San José
City of Sunnyvale
County of Santa Clara
The David & Lucile Packard Foundation
El Camino Hospital
FIRST 5 Santa Clara County
The Health Trust
Kaiser Permanente Northern California Region
Kaiser Permanente San José
Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara
Lifeguard Charitable Fund
Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital
Mission Community Fund
Palo Alto Medical Foundation
Rotary Club of San José
Santa Clara Family Health Plan
Sobrato Family Foundation
Xyratex International, Inc.