Report to Ethics Commission Clears Liccardo Campaign

A report going before the San Jose Ethics Commission is expected to clear Sam Liccardo’s mayoral campaign of breaking city fundraising laws, save for one count of improper disclosure.

In February, the councilman’s campaign admitted to getting a head start on lining up fundraisers. In one instance, a supporter invited guests to a fundraiser before money can be collected. Ragan Henninger, the campaign’s chief of staff, said the supporter's email invite was “totally a violation,” before later going on the offensive to say other campaign events were within the letter of the law. She argued, “This is what winners do."

On Tuesday, the commission received a report clearing Liccardo's campaign. The report, carried out by Hanson Bridgett LLP, noted that the lone violation out of 12 counts was minimal and corrected in short order.

The campaign's one misstep was not reporting $885.85 in in-kind contributions from a Dec. 13 fundraiser, according to the report. The event took place at the home of Mark Henderson, who spent $485.85 on food and beverages. Rick Holden, a co-sponsor for the event, spent $400 of his own money.

The investigation found that the event's costs were given to the Liccardo campaign but did not get listed on his first campaign disclosure form. On May 6, Liccardo filed an amended Form 460 to report the in-kind contributions, satisfying investigators.

“We found no intent on Respondent's part to deceive or mislead,” investigators write in their report. “To the contrary, Respondent cooperated fully with the investigation. We also suggest to the Commission that the violation itself is a relatively minor one, not rising to the level of severity ordinarily calling for imposition of a penalty. Upon notice of the violation, the Respondent took corrective action by amending its campaign reports.”

Former council candidate Steve Kline filed his complaint on April 7, leveling a variety of charges and demanding the Liccardo campaign return certain contributions. The report, however, cites a lack of facts to justify several of Kline's allegations, and in one case a misreading of Title 12, which regulates city elections.

“Six of the counts allege that the Respondent violated section 12.06.290's prohibition against soliciting contributions before the commencement of the campaign contribution period by soliciting pledges from up to 89 cohosts of six different fundraising events,” the report notes.

While some communications invited guests to fundraisers, there was no option to make online contributions, which, investigators say, kept the Liccardo camp in the clear.

“Consistent with the City Attorney's interpretation of Section 12.06.290, announcing a future event is not lining up a pledge of a contribution but is more properly seen as part of the planning and coordinating stage of fundraising activities,” the report states.

Liccardo’s critics have also suggested the deletion of events from his campaign calendar show a cover up was underway, but investigators determined that the campaign had a reasonable explanation.

“We spoke with Khan Russo, the campaign volunteer responsible for managing the website and posting the notices concerning the events. Mr. Russo explained, and provided supporting evidence, that when publishing an initial posting, the web management tool requires setting an end date for the posting. Mr. Russo's practice was to set up the website so that the announcement was automatically deleted when the event was over. We find Mr. Russo's explanation reasonable and find no intent on the part of Respondent to deceive the public, or the Commission, in the removal of the web postings once the event had been held.”

Liccardo did spend $3,045.34 of his own money, without first depositing it into his campaign account, before the fundraising window on Dec. 5. But there are no limitations on personal spending in a campaign, and investigators found that Liccardo did not violate the spirit of the law. By reporting the money as an expenditure, the report says, he showed no intent to deceive or hide the activity.

Liccardo’s kickoff event in October at SP2 also did not violate the law, the report found, as the deal worked out between the campaign and the restaurant/bar would be equivalent to what the restaurant would offer the general public.

The report is on the Ethics Commission’s May 14 agenda.

Correction: A previous version of this post stated that the Ethics Commission has already accepted the report. San Jose Inside regrets the error.

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

11 Comments

  1. Bottom line every person on this council running for Chuck’s job is just like Chuck! A BIG FAT LIER WHO WILL DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO GET HIS SEAT.

    Time for a change vote Dave.

    • How about Dave and that $50K from Card Clubs or the $50K that the Democratic Party (which is backing Dave) got from Rural Metro only a matter of days before the Rural Metro Vote at the County. Dave is just Cindy’s little puppet.

      • Yes, according to my flyer Dave is endorsed by just about everybody IN government and nobody NOT in government.
        It’s become the People vs. Big Koolaid and Dave Cortese is on the side of Big Koolaid.

        • Now, now, I believe the incumbent sheriff (who carries most of the same favor-drive endorsements) is calling the endorsement of every politician they can collect “unprecedented bi-partisan support.” Is it supposed to matter what the people think?

  2. I have received mailers from Dave’s and from Sam’s campaigns recently that claim to be from independent committees. Yet, they feature professional pictures of the candidates with supporters. So, if these committees are truly independent, how did they get the photos? From the campaign committees, of course. They are not on the candidates’ websites. So much for “independent committees”, which are supposed to have zero contact with the candidate

    • It’s not a violation for a candidate to provide a picture or bio to an independent expenditure committee. A candidate may provide a picture and a bio to all sorts of people and organizations: the press, PTA’s, neighborhood organizations, chambers of commerce, etc . . . It’s not an act of coordination to provide an IE committee the same.

  3. I was checking the leader board on the PGA Tour website for yesterday’s final round of the Players Championship, and up popped an ad for Sam for Mayor. Gotta spend all that moolah, I guess.

    • A vote for Cortese is a vote for George Shirakawa and the modern iteration of Tammany Hall, aka the South Bay Labor Council. Cindy is Boss Tweed incarnate

  4. I got a Liccardo Campaign flyer in the mail the other day and it really made me angry. There is a quote by Jeff Rosen that says, “Sam Liccardo is the only candidate for mayor with a plan that can actually reduce crime in San Jose today-not in the future.” Mr. Rosen, I have to ask you–where was this plan before the mayor campaign and why didn’t Liccardo implement it before his run for mayor? If I were voters, I would be asking that same question. Sam, you mean you let the crime in this city fester and all of a sudden you now have a plan to reduce the crime?. Why weren’t you reducing that crime as a council member? Why now that you are running for mayor? Any voter with any sense will be able to see through this. It simply makes you that more unbelievable. Jeff, you should be ashamed of yourself. I have decided now that I won’t be voting for you, either.

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