South Bay Labor Council Committee Spends Big on County Supervisor Race

The South Bay Labor Council spent almost a quarter-million dollars supporting Cindy Chavez’ successful run for a county supervisor seat, according to forms filed last month with the Registrar of Voters. The details of the labor organization’s staggering campaign fundraising and spending have not been made public until now. Taking into respect money spent by the Chavez campaign and other groups supporting her, it appears more than $750,000 was spent getting her into office. While few candidates can pull together a coalition of support like Chavez, the coordination between her campaign and outside groups raises some serious questions for the Fair Political Practices Commission.

According to campaign disclosure forms that remain unavailable online, the SBLC’s Committee on Political Education (COPE) spent $265,031 during in the first half of this year. While a small fraction of that money was used to pay off debts for labor-supported candidates in last year’s elections, most of it appears to have gone toward helping Chavez win the June primary and defeat Teresa Alvarado in the July 30 runoff.

Where the money came from is perhaps more interesting.

Much of the $190,000-plus SBLC COPE received between Jan. 1 and June 30 came in large chunks from union-sponsored political action committees (PACs) and local corporations, helping the Chavez team sidestep normal campaign restrictions. Classified as a committee restricted to “member-to-member” communications, SBLC COPE was able to accept dollar amounts that surpass limits applied to county supervisor candidate campaigns ($1,000 per election cycle). Also, most of the payments made by the committee—even to SBLC chief Ben Field and PR flack Stacey Hendler Ross—were classified as member-to-member expenses.

Early in the race to fill the seat of disgraced former county supervisor George Shirakawa Jr., the Chavez camp figured out a way to coordinate with the Santa Clara County Democratic Central Committee (DCC) and the SBLC COPE. Both of the latter groups were independent expenditure committees in last year’s elections, but they reclassified their activities as strictly “member-to-member” communications for this year’s county supervisor elections to comply with the state’s Political Reform Act.

The DCC targeted Democrats living in the county’s District 2, which consists of downtown and East San Jose, while the SBLC COPE set about targeting its union members. The coordination raised eyebrows in May, and Chavez campaign consultant Ed McGovern defended the action to San Jose Inside as such: “Under the rules of the state, we can operate as coordinating committees, even though those committees in the past may have operated as independent expenditure committees.”

McGovern added, “I don’t make the rules. I just follow them.”

An inquiry by the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) cleared the Chavez camp and committees of any wrongdoing, but sources in and around the campaign admitted the spirit of the law had been compromised. While it’s naive to think candidates and supportive groups on the periphery never consult, the DCC, SBLC COPE and Chavez literally shared their mail pieces to form a consistent, cohesive message. It worked, and Chavez won. (Meanwhile, the FPPC is considering whether or not to launch a full-scale investigation into allegations that the Alvarado campaign illegally coordinated with the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce’s PAC).

From the time Chavez officially launched her campaign on March 25, SBLC COPE received more than $156,800 from PACs and businesses, according to the latest filings. This total, however, only applies to contributions that exceeded the $1,000 limit imposed on candidate committees.

Among the SBLC COPE’s top contributors:

$30,000 — Plumbers, Steamfitters & Refrig Fitters Lcl 393 Political Action Fund #851452 — April 15
$30,000 — Service Employees int’l Union Local 521 Indep Exp Cmte #1297707 — May 16
$10,000 — Plumbers Steamfitters & Refrig Fitter Lcl 393 Political Action Fund — #851452 — April 15
$6,800 — United Food & Commercial Workers Local 5 PAC #1294035 — April 5
$5,000 — San Jose Firefighters Local 230 PAC #743393 (made by project manager Gilbane Building Company) — April 5
$5,000 — Sheet Metal Workers Local Union #104 Political Action Cmt #850381 — April 30
$5,000 — SEIU United Healthcare Workers West PAC SCC #747285 — May 13
$5,000 — IBEW Local 332 Education Fund #1298069 — May 13

Based on the letter of the law, there appears do not indicate anything illegal about the way SBLC COPE collected cash and spent it—although details on spending are far fewer and lack dates. What the forms do provide is a blueprint on how to get around the Political Reform Act’s rules on coordination. (Of course, it could be argued that Chavez is one of only a few local candidates who could get the DCC and SBLC COPE to agree to provide their considerable funds and resources.)

Somewhat surprisingly, there are as many mentions in the SBLC COPE’s latest filing for paying bills related to candidates who ran in last November’s election as Chavez, who was only noted when her campaign paid for committee expenses or reimbursed SBLC COPE.

Back in November, SBLC COPE was still an independent expenditure committee barred from coordinating directly with candidates. The group indirectly supported failed San Jose council candidate Jimmy Nguyen ($37,465), Santa Clara council candidates Debi Davis ($74,349.62) and John Mlnarik ($75,149), and El Camino hospital board candidates Dennis Chiu, Bill James Julia Miller ($44,441).

The SBLC COPE’s latest filing shows late bills paid in the amount of $18,547. This total includes accrued expenses for the above-mentioned candidates, as well as $969.08 spent in support of Ben Hueso for the District 40 State Senate seat and $500 for Craig Mann’s Evergreen College trustee campaign.

Ironically, SBLC COPE‘s goal was to help Chavez replace Shirakawa, who blamed his illegal activity on a gambling addiction. But in the committee’s latest filing, one $2,121 expense went to Ace Casino Rentals, a San Francisco-based company that rents casino equipment.

Here is a full list of groups that gave more than $1,000 to SBLC COPE after Cindy Chavez declared her intent to run for county supervisor:

March
$1,750 — Committee on Political Education – CA Labor Federation #741504 — March 27

April
$6,800 — United Food & Commercial Workers Local 5 PAC #1294035 — April 5
$5,000 — San Jose Firefighters Local 230 PAC #743393 (made by project manager Gilbane Building Company) — April 5
$12,000 — Service Employee Intl Union Local 521 Candidate PAC #1297708 — April 8
$3,200 — Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21 PAC #881248
$2,500 — San Jose Firefighters Local 230 PAC #743393 (made by project manager Gilbane Building Company) — April 10
$10,000 — IBEW Local 332 Education Fund #1298069 — April 10
$30,000 — Plumbers, Steamfitters & Refrig Fitters Lcl 393 Political Action Fund #851452 — April 15
$10,000 — Plumbers Steamfitters & Refrig Fitter Lcl 393 Political Action Fund — #851452 — April 15
$2,500 — UFCW Wester States Council #910874 — April 17
$1,500 — Northern CA Carpenters Regional Council Small Contrib. Cmte. #972104 — April 26
$5,000 — Sheet Metal Workers Local Union #104 Political Action Cmt #850381 — April 30

May
$1,500 — American Income Life Insurance Company — May 1
$3,000 — Laborers Local Union No. 270 – Small Contributors Comm. #901351 — May 6
$2,500 — Teamsters Local Union 287 Drive Fund/Candidates #910273 — May 10
$5,000 — SEIU United Healthcare Workers West PAC SCC #747285 — May 13
$2,500 — Communication Workers of America Cope Political Contribution Cmte #1242993 — May 13
$5,000 — IBEW Local 332 Education Fund #1298069 — May 13
$30,000 — Service Employees int’l Union Local 521 Indep Exp Cmte #1297707 — May 16
$2,500 — SCC Probation Peace Officers’ Union Political Account #743998 — May 16
$2,000 — Laborers Local Union No. 270 – Small Contributors Comm. #901351 — May 17
$2,500 — Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Cope Special Holding Account #841627 — May 23
$2,500 — De Anza Building & Maintenance Inc. — May 28

June
$2,500 — Green Republic LLP — June 3
$3,550 — Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21 PAC #881248 — June 18
$2,500 — District Council of Iron Workers Political Action League #831693 — June 18

Josh Koehn is a former managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley.

21 Comments

  1. If it’s true that money buys influence in politics,  then if any conclusions are to be drawn based on this list of contributors, Cindy will ignore the general good and will instead be a tool of union members and developers. In other words- a typical Democrat.

      • Just observed two City “workers” on the job at a park this morning. Slow. Sullen. Inefficient. Both of them smoking even though smoking’s not allowed in city parks. Ignoring trash laying on the ground as they performed what’s evidently the bare minimum of their job description- replacing trash can liners. At a glance it’d be obvious to any objective observer that these two care NOTHING about taking care of the parks. Yet Cindy wants to work on behalf of worthless, apathetic do-nothings like this so they can get paid even more, get better pensions, and are impossible to discipline, motivate, or fire.

        She doesn’t represent “We The People”. She represents certain special interest groups. There’s a big difference. And it’s very disturbing that practically nobody understands the difference.

        That objective enough for you BOHICA?

        • Are you sure they were City workers and not James Reber’s brigade of Parks Foundation “volunteers” . upset, inefficient and sullen overt the fact that they were changing out liners rather than the City Employees their tax dollars supposedly fund?

          There was a time when City Employees took pride and ownership in the things they were responsible for. Maybe they were in fact City Employees but what you don’t consider is that ONE parks employee used to be responsible for ONE – THREE City parks and used to be able to devote a significant amount of time each day to each of the parks overseen.

          NOW, those TWO parks employees may be responsible for 15? 20? HALF the parks in the City???  How much Time a month can they devote?

        • Sorry Meyer. I’m as down on Reber’s “Parks Foundation” as you are but these two were definitely City employees and based on the admittedly limited exposure I have to City employees, were actually quite typical. The parks director and management structure is I’m sure incredibly lame but at some point individuals must be held responsible for their own morale. But then, these are the sort of workplace conditions that evolve under labor activist leadership and logic dictates that they would not be confined to departments whose workers are out in plain view of the public as are the Parks department workers. 
          And as long as you brought up Reber, from what I’ve observed, Parks Foundation “volunteers”, Our City Forest “volunteers”, work programs for the “pooor”, etc. are more of a distraction to the Parks Department than a help. PRNS seems to spend a great deal of time and effort reacting to their demands and helping out on their little projects while neglecting to provide a coherent, effective maintenance program. I’m quite sure they have the resources to look after the parks but for political reasons choose not to.

        • I know you know I was playing the Devil’s advocate and I agree 100% that PRNS probably has its hands full with the Squeeky Wheels from the SJPF. 

          What you didn’t address is the fact that PRNS today has fewer employees than it had a some time in the not too distant past (when nobody complained about the condition of the parks because there wasn’t much if anything to complain about) while the City has at least the same and probably more park facilities to maintain.

          Like I mentioned 1 employee used to be responsible for 1-3 parks and now a 2 employee team might be responsible for many times that number of facilities. How Many Trash cans are there at Paul Moore, Bramhall, Wallenberg, Kirk, Wilcox, Doeer Butcher, Branham, Scottsdale, Bierbrach, Hummingbird, PalmHaven River Glen, Rubino,  Canoas     PArks, just to name a few of the facilities in Willow Glen area?  Bathrooms that need to be opened , cleaned and stocked (used to be daily – doubt it now…) Grafitti cleaned, and on and on and on.. we ar talking acres of real estate to maintain.

          I can’t make excuses for the people or what their specific issues are but you can’t deny that since Mayor Reed and his pension reform there are fewer employees who are responsible for exponentially more than they used to be responsible.

          the public can grouse all they want about “unions this, and labor that and pensions pensions pensions…”  Fine , cut pay, cut benefits, layoff/downsize but if you don’t eliminate parks (never going to happen) reduce the number of 911 calls that police and fire are tasked with scale back street repairs , cut library hours and any number of other City Services proportionally then you can’t complain.

          The public wanted pension reform even though the stupid lazy “unionistas” told them what the outcome would be (employees would leave-and they have / services would suffer – and they have) and the public said “that will never happen, Reed is an honorable man he will ensure jobs are preserved and services are protected” and the public voted for pension reform and is now upset about the outcome???

          Welcome to reality.

        • Oh there were criticisms all right but as long as the union boys kept getting their paychecks and their pension increases they fell on deaf ears. But people will not be played for suckers forever. We finally figured out that we were being taken advantage of by parks workers who reacted to ever rising pay and benefits by providing ever declining work output. Since there was no way to force these union empowered slackers to work hard we figured the best we could do is get ripped off by fewer of them.

          Put parks maintenance out to bid and you’ll discover that miraculously the job can be done quite well with the same number of employees currently used.
          Companies that get the contract would be motivated to keep the contract.
          It’s called competition.
          It’s the real world.

        • Galt you make no sense.

          You say you are currently getting “ripped off by fewer” and you blame the “fewer” for the poor conditions you find in our City Parks.

          Which is it? because there are fewer workers or because of “declining output.”

          At one time you were getting “ripped off” by more yet, you were apparently satisfied with the standard to which the “more” who were ripping you off (because there were more of them and were paid more while paying less into their own pensions)took care of the park(s). 

          You acknowledge “fewer” employees now and you know that the “fewer” are (1) being paid less and (2)
          Thanks to the “overwhelming” support shown by the public for pension reform, paying MORE of their already lowered paychecks towards their own pensions.

          It is an undeniable FACT that fewer employees being paid less while contributing more to their own pensions and overall is costing YOU LESS.

          You should be happy but you are not. You are not happy because the park is not being maintained at the level you found acceptable. The park was maintained to your high standards (you never complained) by employees being paid more per hour and having more of their pension contributions being paid by you through the City.

          As far as “declining output” How can you substantiate that?  You already acknowledge there are fewer employees. I already pointed out that there are the same number if not more parks that require the attention of the fewer workers. The overriding constants here are the finite number of hours in a day and the number of parks to be maintained. How can fewer workers possibly maintain the standards once achieved when there were more of them???

          Now you are paying less to fewer employees and upset that your park is a mess???  All you can do is blame the employees??? 

          Your logic is pretty flawed.

        • You ask the question, “How can fewer workers possibly maintain the standards once achieved when there were more of them?”

          You really don’t know the answer to this question?There’s only one way, Meyer. And that’s by working harder. I believe they CAN work much harder than they do. That’d be easy since they barely do anything at all as it is. Any objective, regular park visitor with a pair of eyeballs and a brain would agree. And that’s always been my point- that we SJ taxpayers are paying top dollar for sub par performance. I’m not complaining about the condition of the parks. I’ve given up on that. The parks can go to ruin before I’ll be extorted any further- it’s really just protection money we’re paying these crooks. I’m complaining about being ripped off year after year. I’m making the point that labor friendly leadership such as Cindy Chavez- such as Ron Gonzalez- such as Ash Kalra- such as (insert name of any San Jose liberal Democrat politician here) has consistently emboldened, empowered, and incited the more rebelious and resentful factions in the various local government departments and has ensured that the residents and taxpayers of San Jose get a raw deal vis a vis the efficient use of our tax dollars.
          Cindy Chavez is not on the side of “We The People”. She’s on the side of “We The Government”

        • Well, THAT was a sincere generalization.  Let me see…..I saw a lazy, barely english speaking fast food server with a bad attitude who gave me back incorrect change after ordering my coffee.  They should all be fired for incompetence! 
            You are being ridiculous.

        • BOHICA,
          Go to any San Jose city park and wait.
          When park workers show up pull your head out of the sand, open your eyes, and observe.
          If what you see them doing satisfies your definition of “work”, then you have proved my point that you and most government workers have no idea what real work is.

        • You, sir, are the one with your head in the sand.  Pointing out what you PERCEIVE as “Government” workers and their shortcomings is ludicrous.  We can all look at any profession and cherry pick non-productive employees.  Are you telling me that your place of employment has none?  Then cranio-rectal inversion is your natural state, and the conversation ends here.

  2. Back in November, SBLC COPE was still an independent expenditure committee barred from coordinating directly with candidates. The group indirectly supported failed San Jose council candidate Jimmy Nguyen ($37,465), Santa Clara council candidates Debi Davis ($74,349.62) and John Mlnarik ($75,149), and El Camino hospital board candidates Dennis Chiu, Bill James Julia Miller ($44,441).

    Why would the South Bay Labor Council want to spend almost $150k on the Santa Clara council race?  What was so important about that race?

  3. Any word on who spent how much on the Alvarado Campaign? Are the Alvarado Campaign’s documents available on line yet?

    apologies to Spongebob and Patrick but, Josh, “your bias is showing.”

    • The South Bay Labor Council’s committee had not previously released any information about its spending in the race, which is why the story is new and worth reporting. But to answer your question, based on the most recently available numbers for spending by the Alvarado campaign ($279,142) and the independent committee that opposed Cindy Chavez ($124,687), the total spent on Alvarado’s behalf comes to $403,829. While that number is likely to climb higher, because the final two weeks of campaign activity were not accounted for in the latest campaign disclosure forms, it is unlikely to come anywhere close to the money spent supporting Chavez.

      In addition to spending by the three coordinated groups of the Chavez team (her campaign, SBLC’s COPE and the Democratic Central Committee’s UDC), which should account for more than $750,000, another $100,000 was spent by the independent expenditure committee “Silicon Valley Public Health and Safety Coalition for Chavez for Supervisor 2013, sponsored by government attorneys, nurses and public safety employee organizations.”

      So, taking these still unfinished numbers at face value, the Chavez camp was able to spend roughly double that of Alvarado and her backers. We were first to report who supported the Measure B campaign, and here you have details on the county supervisor race.

      Thanks for reading,

      JK

      • Thanks, the bias comment refers to the total number of Chavez related articles and the message they tend to convey vs the Alvarado related pieces. granted most if not all Chavez pieces mention Alvarado (both are relevant to each other) however the level of scrutiny devoted to Chavez vs Alvarado is just a little bit weighted. 

        Then again, Alvarado (in a vacuum) has little to evaluate and as a whole (her “connections, ” her husband, her mother – can you say “machine politics”) is a horse of different color…

        Maybe the point should be that Chavez overspent?

        Thanks for responding,
        The Meyer,

        • Are you insane … “machine politics” … Cindy Chavez is the definition of “machine politics.” Good lord Meyer Weed, I think your bias has unquestionably been showing in just about every post I’ve ever read on here and on the Merc website. We may as well just give you a Guy Fawkes mask and change your user name at this point.

          I mean, come on, of course Metro/SJInside/Josh have a bias, but Cindy is, by far, more deeply connected into the “machine” than even Teresa is. You have a woman whose campaign kicked off the resurgence of Labor as a significant force in SJ politics, who then used that power to add around 5-6 other Labor-backed politicians onto said council, culminating in the NorCal scandal and subsequent “Sunshine Reforms.” At which point she unsuccessfully ran for Mayor and became the head of Labor for a number of years, getting people like Shirakawa successfully re-elected. And then, she suddenly is available to run for the very office she worked so hard to fill, while also joining the board of the SCCDCC a few weeks before as an internally elected appointment, which just happens to be chaired by someone who worked for her in her Labor position.

          Not that the other side is so innocent either … but let’s be real.

          Welcome to the machine indeed … Santa Clara county and friends.

      • ” ($279,142) and the independent committee that opposed Cindy Chavez ($124,687), the total spent on Alvarado’s behalf comes to $403,829. While that number is likely to climb higher, because the final two weeks of campaign activity were not accounted for in the latest campaign disclosure forms, it is unlikely to come anywhere close to the money spent supporting Chavez”

          Really?  The numbers have been out for quite a while.  Chamber of commerce, business associations, DevCon, “independent Committee” comprised of currently serving City Councilmembers…etc…  Dirty money is still dirty money, no matter WHERE it comes from.

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