Sam Liccardo’s campaign admitted Friday that a violation occurred in the councilman’s collection of contributions for the San Jose mayor’s race. Ragan Henninger told San Jose Inside that a supporter’s email announcing a fundraiser before the campaign window began is “totally a violation” and “we’re going to return the money.”
Henninger said that the campaign believes $2,200 was improperly collected, but the total might be more.
Earlier this week, labor-sponsored blog The Left Hook published an email that was sent out by Alex Tourk, a public relations consultant in San Francisco, asking people to attend a fundraiser on Liccardo’s behalf. The email went out the day before Dec. 5, the date such activity is allowed by city election law, but may have been posted as early as mid-November.
According to Henninger, Tourk’s email was not the message approved by the campaign and its attorney.
“That’s not what we asked for folks to send out,” she said, noting that the campaign’s attorney signed off on a carefully worded message, which supporters could then use to invite people to “events”—not fundraisers.
“They were meet-and-greets for Sam,” Henninger said. “We were doing events before December. That’s campaigning.”
The first round of campaign disclosure forms became public at the end of January, and Liccardo’s campaign surprised many political observers by hauling in more than half a million dollars in just 26 days. The total was made more impressive by the fact that individual contributions are capped at $1,100.
It’s not clear how many people received Tourk’s email, which invited people to attend a Dec. 12 fundraiser at his wife’s art gallery, but Henninger said half of the $2,200 collected at came from Tourk.
“We asked Alex to look at our list of donors and see if anyone on our list received that email, because we’ll return those checks, too,” she said.
Henninger added that the campaign believes this was an isolated incident and sees nothing wrong with lining up “events” before the fundraising window started.
“We’re sorry if our opponents haven’t been doing events and campaigning and have only raised $169,000,” she said. “This is what winners do.”
City Attorney Rich Doyle would not confirm or deny if any complaints have been come into his office or the city’s ethics commission, which handles campaign complaints. When a complaint is filed, the commission hands over information to an outside law firm. After an independent investigation is conducted, the commission holds a public hearing. This is almost certain to occur.
Henninger said an ethics commission review would be unnecessary, because the campaign is in the process of returning funds.
“I don’t know what the ethics commission would do other than what we’re already doing,” she said.
Tourk sent this email statement: “I’ve looked back at that email I sent and it was simply a mistake to call it a fundraiser. So I’ve spoken with the campaign, I’m sending them the email list I used, and they are going to return all the checks received from individuals on that list and the people who attended the event.”
San Jose Inside asked Tourk if he would supply a list of people who received that email. We will update when more information comes in.
Sam Liccardo told San Jose Inside on Friday afternoon that his campaign did not solicit any contributions before the Dec. 5 fundraising window opened. He added that his team immediately began steps to rectify the situation after hearing about Tourk’s email.
“I learned about this when someone indicated that one of the blogs had reported that an email had gone out a few hours before Dec. 5,” Liccardo said. “We immediately reached out to Alex to find out of it was true and who he solicited, so we could return those checks.”