Chavez Paid 2012 Political Campaign Staff With Santa Clara County Funds

The Working Partnerships USA executive’s signature appears on county contracts that included salary reimbursements for herself, South Bay Labor Council’s then-chief of staff and current chief executive, Ben Field, and other key campaign officials. The county gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Working Partnerships USA, including more than $200,000 to expand local anti-smoking ordinances and encourage union workers to take walks, eat vegetables and drink fruit juice.

Because WPUSA and SBLC won’t release their books, it’s impossible to know for sure if the public money went where it was intended, but other activities going on at the same time suggest that priorities other than fruit juices and power walks dominated the labor groups’ agendas.

The county funded the health program as Chavez’s team attempted to unseat San Jose Councilwoman Rose Hererra, worked to pass a half-billion dollar county sales tax and campaigned to raise San Jose’s minimum wage. And SBLC’s political arm, overseen by Chavez and Field, fed volunteers food from a pizzeria, a taqueria, Costco and Subway.

A March 2, 2012 “Tobacco Intervention” contract for $82,739 with Santa Clara County included $49,865 in salary payments, $17,453 in fringe benefits, $4,987 in administrative overhead, $2,992 in general office supplies, $1,500 in “meals for meetings,” $1,660 in telephone expenses and $$2,992 in “general expenses” that included postage, equipment leases, printing and operational expenses.

A second $151,899 contract for “obesity prevention,” the amended version of which was signed by Chavez on Sept. 13, 2012, contributed additional funds for Field’s and Chavez’s salaries.

The tobacco and obesity contracts also provided funds towards the salaries of South Bay Labor Council Organizing Director Derecka Mehrens and Jamie Chen, two leaders in the Measure D minimum wage campaign, and Working Partnerships Policy Director Bob Brownstein.

Even though it describes itself as a nonprofit “think tank,” Working Partnerships’ expenses rise during key election years, as charted in a previous San Jose Inside article.

The initial tobacco contract ran through Sept. 18, 2012, and the obesity contract continues through June 29, 2013—past the date of the District 2 supervisorial primary in which Chavez is a candidate.

The documents released by Santa Clara County illustrate the ease with which funds and personnel flow between the two organizations—in apparent violation of Internal Revenue Service law. Working Partnerships USA is a 501c3 charity that’s prohibited from using its resources to support or oppose candidates, and the South Bay Labor Council is a labor union political group that recruits candidates and works to elect individuals to public office. Field and Chavez principally worked for SBLC—not the county-funded WPUSA.

Salaries are allocated between the two groups according to arbitrary formulas and amongst its county contracts without supporting documents. For example, Working Partnerships’ 2011 Internal Revenue Service Form 990 shows $63,564 in salary and $11,023 in benefits to Chavez for 15 hours of work per week. Presumably she worked another 25 hours per week at South Bay Labor Council until her December 2012 resignation to go full time with Working Partnerships.

In the Obesity Prevention contract, 2 percent of Chavez’s $65,000 was charged to the county program, while 5 percent of Field’s WPUSA time and 5 percent of Mehrens’ hours were devoted to helping Santa Clara County residents stay slim.

Chavez spent another 4 percent of her 15 hours on the public dime—exactly 36 minutes per week—encouraging county residents to adopt a tobacco-free lifestyle, according to another contract with the county. The effort to promote “Smoke-free Outdoor Dining” and banish butts from “Outdoor Common Areas of Multi-Family Residences” paid for 8 percent of Brownstein’s $95,000 salary and 15 percent of Mehrens’ $75,000 salary.

Along with one other WPUSA staff member, Chavez, Brownstein and Mehrens were dispatched to “assess the political environment” and gather “stakeholder and partner input to inform the power analysis” and “solidify support,” according to WPUSA reports to the county.

WPUSA’s Communications Director, novelist Jody Meacham, was also paid by the county to influence the expansion of San Jose’s anti-smoking laws. “We have recruited a community leader to co-author an op-ed, and worked with the Mercury News editorial board to place it in advance of the city council meeting,” a February 2012 progress report noted. “We drafted two letters to the editor in support of the ordinance and recruited two signers to submit them.”

As part of the obesity prevention campaign, county funds were used to help unionized electricians, plumbers, carpenters and ironworkers eat healthier foods. “A minimum of 50% of snack or meal options made available to volunteers at the Labor Center will be healthier snack/meal options in accordance with the County of Santa Clara Nutritional Standards,” the program documents list as an objective.

The program’s scope included “taste testing of healthy foods that could be purchased and served to staff, volunteers and union workers” as well as a “no sugar-sweetened beverages” policy that would provide WPUSA’s staff with “water, 100% fruit juice (limited to 8 oz servings/containers) or other unsweetened beverage options.”

In addition, according to the county-released documents, “WPUSA will provide a selection of fresh fruit and vegetables as snacks to all staff at least three days per week” and “a walking club will be established to promote physical activity among WPUSA staff and union workers.”

But during the Oct. 21 to Dec. 31, 2012 period, when the South Bay Labor Council’s political committee was precinct walking for the November election, its Form 460 shows more than 375 line items for food purchases from Costco, Safeway and local fast food restaurants. The food was used to feed volunteers who supported Measures A, D, E and Prop 30 and opposed Prop 32, according to the public filing. The purchases include 22 entries totaling $871 at a local pizzeria, 20 at Subway, eight at Aroma Coffee and Snacks and 14 at La Costa del Sol Taqueria y Pupuseria.

While protecting county residents from the negative health effects for extra pounds and tobacco use, WPUSA’s multi-tasking team also led the county’s policy development for health-care reform implementation, for which it was paid $193,328 in salary, benefits and administrative overhead. And WPUSA received a $272,424 county contract for voter outreach and registration.

Each contract was voted on by the Board of Supervisors and signed off by the Office of the County Executive and a county program manager.

Links:

WPUSA Anti-Tobacco Use Contract

Salary breakouts in obesity prevention agreement

WPUSA Obesity Prevention Contract

Amendment to WPUSA Obesity Prevention Contract

Amendment to WPUSA Obesity Prevention Contract

Working Partnerships Rides Half-Million Dollar County Gravy Train, San Jose Inside, April 3, 2013

24 Comments

  1. Thank you SJI for another revealing article:

    “The program’s scope included “taste testing of healthy foods that could be purchased and served to staff, volunteers and union workers” as well as a “no sugar-sweetened beverages” policy that would provide WPUSA’s staff with “water, 100% fruit juice (limited to 8 oz servings/containers) or other unsweetened beverage options.”

    In addition, according to the county-released documents, “WPUSA will provide a selection of fresh fruit and vegetables as snacks to all staff at least three days per week” and “a walking club will be established to promote physical activity among WPUSA staff and union workers.”  “

    Seriously?  My county tax dollars were used for this?  This campaign finance information should have come out before the county sales tax increase of last November.  The county shouldn’t be pleading poverty to get voters to approve a sales tax increase while it is throwing our money away on the organizations described in this article. 

    If the county really needs to tell people to exercise more, eat more fruits and vegetables, etc. why not hire health educators such as the ones who teach classes at Kaiser (just an example because I know well educated health professionals who teach classes at Kaiser.) 

    I don’t want my county tax dollars to flow to any organizations which spend money on political campaigns for candidates or ballot measures.  And spending county tax dollars through these organizations on City of San Jose council elections and City of San Jose ballot measures means that non-San Jose taxpayers are subsidizing campaigns for which they are not even eligible to vote.

    The County Supervisors need to stop giving away tax dollars to such organizations.

  2. I see an awful lot of “WitchHunting ” going on against the Labor Movement , and if they did wrong then they deserve what comes! But why Nothing about Mayor Reed Misappropriating funds?(and then paying back before it hit the press)why nothing about Pete Constant getting the Lap band on taxpayer funds? why nothing about P.D. and F.D. responding to Pierre’s Family Home for a domestic with Mom & Pop? it goes on and on . could you at least try to fake a little impartiality?

    • Meyer, Reed’s expense issue was written about extensively seven years ago. He repaid the funds and the voters elected him over Chavez in a landslide. Your issue should be with the voters. Reed’s a lame duck anyway, his term will finish next year. You are asking SJI to write about something that’s a dead issue, already sunshined. Besides, you bring it up like a broken record, so the public is reminded of it anyway without the need for reporters to cover it.

      The research about Chavez’s paying herself with public money has never been published before. It’s new research and original reporting. It’s recent and still ongoing. Doesn’t sound like a witch hunt to me, more like public spirited reporting at its best.

      • Lily why dont you finish reading the complete blurb , before defending Reed . That was just one example . Like you , anyone has the right to ask questions! it would just be nice if those questions were asked fairly to all in public service , NOT just those on the labor side.

  3. Why is Jeff Smith not investigating how his staff spends money? Where’s Vinod and Irene? Audit time. The contracts should be immediately put on hold. Salary reimbursements to Chavez and all payments to Working Partnerships need to stop, now that she is a declared candidate for county office. Chavez needs to produce the invoices to show how this food money and postage, etc. was spent. Itemized receipts! It looks like she is turning in Missing Receipt Memorandums like Shirakawa did. Just summaries, no itemized receipts to prove how the money was actually spent.

    This looks like theft of public funds to me. Voters in District 2 need to demand to see the books of WPUSA and SBLC before she gets near the County’s four billion budget.

    • You are right on all counts. 

      Chavez has orchestrated using county tax funds as a piggy bank for her salary and the political campaigns she supports.  They covered up Shirakawa’s mess for so long because his vote was needed to approve all these county contracts that kept them flush. 

      The Labor board can support whatever and whomever they want but they should do it with their own money not the tax payer money.  They should at the very least lose their tax exempt status because they knew exactly what they were doing.  Cindy Chavez is smart enough to know what she was doing is improper and that the public wouldn’t like it or support it thats why they work so hard to conceal it from the public. 

      Lets hope she has the same fate as Shirakawa.  Tired of all these fat cats getting fatter on the tax paying public.

    • County Executive Jeff Smith, CFO and Director of Finance Vinod Sharma, and Controller-Treasurer Irene Lui are all tied to the same sinking boat.

      Smith won’t go after his friend Chavez. Sharma and Lui don’t even know the differences between an “audit,” “review,” or a “procedural compliancy test.”

      These three are currently holding positions that they are able to take advantage of their authority. We all must come to the realization that Santa Clara County can not move forward until Jeff Smith, Vinod Sharma, and Irene Lui are out of their positions in Santa Clara County.

      I am a Voter of District 2, and if I and my other District 2 comrades ask to see WPUSA’s and SBLC’s books, any outcome still would prove that there is a lack of leadership within our local government.

      • I went in front of the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors to publicly state that Jeff Smith, Vinod Sharma, and Irene Lui should not hold any county position.

        Mr. Smith then responded with am Open Letter that was sent to San Jose Mercury News pushing blame away from himself for all the problems he let go unnoticed.

        Jeff Smith is the CEO of Our community corporation, and his lack of oversight has proven to be detrimemntal and that he does not have the qualities to be County Executive.

        Members of the Board of Supervisors should be wary if they want to back Mr. Smith, it will most likely prove their demise and therefore will no longer hold the title of Supervisor. They must act quickly, the longer Jeff Smith, Vinod Sharma, and Irene Lui hold their positions, the more trust the Supervisors lose from their citizens.

        I would ask my Board member personally, but he’s going behind bars and the incoming candidates don’t make public appearances (or if they do, they don’t allow voters to sit and listen to them.. I’m referring to SEIU 521 and Miss Chavez)

  4. Chavez was rejected by voters as being politically corrupt.  Field if I remember was disbarred.  So is doesn’t have much going on in the way of integrity. Why is anyone surprised that they’re ripping off taxpayers.

    • In my opinion it’s not so much a surprised reaction, it’s a “knee-jerk” reaction we all get when we are being lied to.

      Glad you said corrupt though, it may not be the ugly corruption we think about.. but in today’s society,Legal Corruption runs rampant through the land.

  5. Cindy Chavez is trumpeting her vast “Experience” for the District 2 Supervisor position vacated by the admitted felon George Shirakawa Jr.  Didn’t we have enough of his “Experience”?  These two are clearly cut from the same cloth.

    I hope the voters do not choose “Experience 2”, starring Cindy Chavez.

  6. Does this also include “County Health Services Strategic Advancement Budget Attachment B” that I found on the county website? Budget total: 102,355, including accounting for salaries. This is apparently a CURRENT contract, so did Chavez file the proper economic interest forms??

    BTW, I don’t know if you know, but the AFL CIO’s tax forms are also online. Cindy Chavez was paid over 100k in compensation. Link:

    https://bulk.resource.org/irs.gov/eo/2012_10_EO/94-0376375_990O_201112.pdf

    It says she worked 40 hours a week. So I guess Chavez was working 65+ hours a week, plus those hours on various boards…busy lady.

  7. This is a really thin article, based on the faulty premise that if one is employed by an organization that receives government funding, then by extension that funding is paying for the personal activities of said employee… And it offers very little evidence of wrongdoing.. Fancy verbal juxtapositions like the linking of a “walking club” with political canvassing and the references to the various menu items procured for volunteers do not make a case for an accusation of fraud…

    Money is ‘fungible’, so on the surface this idea makes some sense, except that in practice it is ridiculous… Say, for instance that the Exec. Dir. of the Downtown Association, which gets substantial City money, takes a trip to Vegas every year and actually gambles away a few hundred dollars!

    Well…

    That would be his personal choice and not particularly scandalous. And the fact that the money came directly from City coffers is irrelevant…

    Nowhere in this report is there even the hint of evidence of “co-mingling”, if Ms. Chavez chooses to pursue a political career that’s her right and even if every staffer she has decides to volunteer to work for her, in order to make this accusation you need to link time cards and payrolls and actually have evidence…

    ALL non-profits who receive any sort of Grant money, public or private, have an “arbitrary” method of reporting payroll costs to Grantor’s, something I’m sure the author is very familiar with.

    I am disappointed in this article, work that a respected and authentic pioneer in what passes for journalism today has lent his name… One may question the efficacy of spending public money to hire people to promote anti-smoking and obesity awareness, I myself smoke Camel straights and weigh 225 at 5’ 7” and regard it as pure waste, but to call it fraud, to accuse someone of felonious behavior on the basis of the evidence presented in this article is defamatory and irresponsible, and we’ve come expect more from you sir…

    • Why would the County think that an outfit that used to be called the “Silicon Valley Labor-Community Institute” would be a good place to spend $82,739 to fight smoking and $151,899 to fight obesity?

      Why not give that money to a non-profit like the National Rifle Association?  I’m sure you’d find people that would complain about that, but as you point out, money is “fungible”.

    • Well, if WPUSA actually did anything that showed tangible evidence of what the actual goal was, maybe people wouldn’t say they used county funds to pay salaries. Obviously this money isn’t going into work that actually benefits the community…unless you count Juicy Juice and apples at labor meetings $40k well spent?

    • Dallas, you made a strong argument against a point that wasn’t even made. Go back and read the article.

      1. It did not say that the smoking and obesity professionals volunteered, as is their democratic right. It talked about county funds picking up part of the salaries of paid political professionals like Chavez, Brownstein, Field and Mehrens — at a time when they were actively involved in campaigns.

      2. If the “walking club” was actually that, then WPUSA should actually produce evidence. They are publicly funded, so they should be transparent, and they should produce documentation to support their public grants.

      3. Yes, money is fungible. But your theoretical example of incidental gambling on a public paid trip is completely irrelevant to the points that were made.

      4. The article did not level an accusation of fraud. It may in fact be that, that’s a conclusion that others can draw and was not made by the writer.

      5. The article is based on facts. I checked the linked documents, and the names that are mentioned in it are all in the salary schedule of the county grant documents.

      6. I didn’t see a reference to felonious behavior. Obviously you drew the conclusion that someone committed a felony. While that may have occurred, the writer did not make that accusation.

      • Thanks for your response, I love a parade!

        1. I said that ‘if’ all of the employees at WPUSA had volunteered that it would make no difference. Regardless of how you feel about the political opinions of the “paid political professionals”, they are all, or were, at the same time, top notch public officials in their own professional lives. Wherever Mr. Brownstein comes out at the end of a Budget discussion, left or right, union or not, it must be recognized that few individuals know as much about the inner workings of the Budget than does Mr. Brownstei. And in each case the same can be said of the others in their own areas of expertise. Your comments, and the article, would lead one to believe that these people are full time “operatives”, mere shills for their cronies… Hardly.

        And again, each Grant has different rules, some DO allow a small portion (2% ain’t much) of the funds to be attributed to the Exec. Dir. or other administrative payroll costs… And there is always an Outcome Report. Ask someone at a foundation to explain it to you, it’s basic Grant writing, full loop kinda stuff…

        2. In that same vein… If this Grant of funds was for a Program, there is Program Outcome Report… It will detail the spending of the funds… Details are found here. This may or may not be public, that would be the province of the Grantor, not the Grantee.

        3. The point is that once money is paid to people to do a task, be it a salary for the downtown’s Chief Booster or a grant paid to a non-profit, what then happens to that money, or what that persons does, is not relevant. What activities people do, in their private or outside public lives, is not relevant. The fact that employees of the WPUSA are also employed by others, union or not, and further that they also work on political campaigns that are harmonious with the goals of their employers is similarly irrelevant, unless you wish to allege “co-mingling” and have some documents or testimony to prove it…

        Which is where things get real thin and the article begins to look like a hit piece. Rather than journalism…

        4. And it’s also where you get to define fraud, which is what the article accuses… And please, sir, the accusation was in the headline, you don’t need to go any further…

        5. All of the “facts” may indeed be correct, and entirely proper as well. It is the interpretation of these facts by the writer that I question. Where are the Grant Reports, the Outcome Report… Pretty standard when you get a Grant, are they public?

        6. Again the HEADLINE is an accusation of a felony. “Chavez Paid 2012 Political Campaign Staff With Santa Clara County Funds”, that’s a felony… Or irresponsible defamation…

        Again, thanks for your response…

  8. Again, this does not justify the accusation of a felony. Our elected representatives were no doubt faced with a common situation, a pot of money is available to the City, County or NGO that can fulfill the needs of the Grant, public or private. Specifications are developed, guidelines covering payroll reimbursement, expenses allowed and goals to be attempted are developed and it goes OUT TO BID.

    The Chamber of Commerce could, has and probably does execute City funded grant programs designed to promote business and commerce… Portions of salaries are billed to the Grant when the Grant Report (a Report done AFTER the fact) is written and filed

    EVERY non-profit operates in this fashion.

    Please reference my last paragraph above…

    • EVERY non-profit operates in this fashion.

      Every non-profit probably does produce the same kinds of documents.  Hopefully they produce better actual results.  Otherwise, I’m never going to donate again.

      I’m sure the SanJoseInside folks are busy combing through every grant report that they can get their hands on.  I’m sure you’re going to say they won’t find anything irregular in those reports, and that they shouldn’t waste their time.

      • I’m not going to argue the merits of this or any program paid for by the taxpayer, especially when executed by private contractors, designed to influence public or private behavior, especially commercial behavior, of any kind.

        I’m sure I would oppose most of them… If there are to be anti-smoking and anti-obesity “professionals” I would make sure that they do not find themselves on any public payroll, if they can find another way to make it pay, great… But this kind of thing really is not the public business, nor our leaders beyond rhetoric…

        While I do see some use in programs to discourage texting, drinking or using your hair dryer or shaving while driving and I have seen some very useful “public service” announcements, several regarding childhood obesity, I will reiterate, I like my Camel non-filters, and I don’t feel overweight, thank you, very much…

        A waste,sure, but that the County’s fault, they have to find a way to spend this money and get on record as opposing smoking and childhood obesity without upsetting one of the largest generators of sales tax revenue, grocery stores and markets…

        Merely showing people the amount of raw sugar equivalent (4.5 OUNCES!!) in a Big Gulp would do the trick…

        Tobacco (dirty little secret, most of the cost is taxes of some sort…) is marketed directly at the young and the poor… My brand, Camel Regular non-filters, is priced at $8.25 at the local 7-11, but jazzy new brands of Camels and Marlboro’s are available for well under $5… These are the brands that New Smokers smoke, I’ll never switch, paid $12.75 on Maui in late Jan. and they know this…

        Devote the anti-smoking money to law enforcement, define selling a kid a pack a smokes as ‘child endangerment’ and it will end quick…

        Oh, one more thing… If we don’t want to be taxed and we still wish to live in a civilized society and take care of those in need, we need to donate, can’t have it both ways…