Less than four weeks to Election Day, San Jose’s political point scoring mechanism is in full swing. Sam Liccardo’s mayoral campaign sent an email blast Thursday announcing it had filed another ethics complaint against opponent Dave Cortese.
In the email, Liccardo campaign manager Ragan Henninger accuses Cortese, a county supervisor, of using up to $7,500 in taxpayer money to fund a Mercury News advertisement for the 5th Annual “Day on the Bay” event, which will be held Oct. 12 at Alviso Marina County Park. The complaint, which describes the event as a "rally," has been filed with the City Clerk's office and county counsel Orry Korb.
There could be a couple issues with the new complaint, though.
Cortese’s office tells San Jose Inside that the ad cost closer to $6,000, and it was paid entirely by sponsors and a grant from the county Parks department—not Cortese's office funds. The supervisor’s office also says the annual event—which will feature free kayak rides and barbecue, and informational booths doing outreach—is no different from the community bashes Cortese has put on the last several years, as well as during his time as a San Jose council member.
Liccardo’s campaign seems unconvinced, however, saying the event is designed, “no doubt, (for) a rousing speech from mayoral candidate Dave Cortese.”
“This is a clear misuse of taxpayer dollars made by a politician who has a history of breaking the rules to try to advance his own career,” Henninger said in a statement.
Last month, Cortese’s campaign came under scrutiny for fundraising violations based on city campaign rules. He returned $10,000 in contributions after it was found that he had received money before filing the necessary paperwork for the runoff.
Cortese’s office tells San Jose Inside that the Merc ad ran in just three of the newpaper’s circulation zones, meaning not all readers across the city would see the ad. The office does admit that there could be some costs associated with the printing of programs for the event, but it maintains that donors, the Parks department and even the supervisor himself cover all other costs. Staff also says that Cortese’s speech will be a simple welcome and thank you to donors, rather than anything resembling a campaign speech.
The latest complaint is not an entirely new gripe against Cortese. As noted a little less than year ago, his critics have seen the Day on the Bay event as free advertising for his political ambitions. San Jose Inside noted the issue in a story published Oct. 16, 2013:
Word is county Supervisor Dave Cortese will announce his plans to run for mayor in the next three weeks, but some might have thought he was already running based on signage seen around town. Thirty banners were posted around the county advertising the recent “Day on the Bay” multicultural festival, held at Alviso Marina County Park. Considering Cortese’s name and title were written much larger than any other words, it looked like a little pre-branding was taking place. Cortese’s office said small business sponsors and donations paid a total of $2,700 for the signs. “We’ve been using the same banners for four years, adding a few each year,” said a spokesperson for Cortese. “We just change the date.”
Neither Cortese nor Henninger immediately returned calls for comment on the new complaint.
Below is the email blast sent out by Liccardo's campaign:
COMPLAINT FILED AGAINST CORTESE FOR USING TAX DOLLARS TO FUND RALLY
Cortese, who recently faced a city lawsuit for another campaign violation, spent up to $7,500 taxpayer dollars advertising a rally
San José – Santa Clara County Supervisor and candidate for mayor Dave Cortese spent up to $7,500 taxpayer dollars advertising a rally on the front page of the October 6 edition of the Mercury News. The event will feature free kayak rides, free barbeque and, no doubt, a rousing speech from mayoral candidate Dave Cortese. The Liccardo campaign is calling on Cortese, who has already benefited from more than half a million dollars of special interest money, to return the money to the taxpayers and pay for his campaign advertising out of his campaign budget. A complaint was filed today with the San Jose City Clerk and the Santa Clara County Counsel.
“This is a clear misuse of taxpayer dollars made by a politician who has a history of breaking the rules to try to advance his own career,” said Liccardo Campaign Manager Ragan Henninger. “In just the past few months, Cortese has broken the law by inappropriately collecting campaign contributions he was forced to return and sent out campaign emails from the same email address he uses for official business. These aren’t frivolous violations – the city launched a lawsuit into Cortese’s activities and they are part of a pattern of breaking the law for his own gain.”
Section A3-50 of the Santa Clara County Code of Ordinances states that “Existing California law prohibits the use of public resources for personal gain” and that “Existing California law prohibits the use of public resources to advocate the passage or defeat of any candidate or measure.” The full section can be read here:
Sec. A3-50. Prohibitions against use of office for personal or campaign purposes.
(a) Existing California law prohibits the use of public resources for personal gain.
(b) Existing California law prohibits the use of public resources to advocate the passage or defeat of any candidate or measure.
(c) Existing California law restricts the use of mass mailings by public officials.
(d) In addition to the foregoing prohibitions, it is a violation of this chapter for any Board member to
(1) Use, for personal gain or advantage, County facilities, equipment, supplies, personnel or other things of value; or
(2) Use the office to secure, for personal benefit, gifts, special privileges or exemptions.
(Ord. No. NS-19.30.4, § 1, 9-23-97)
“Dave Cortese has already benefitted from more than half a million dollars of special interest money – it’s completely inappropriate for him to use taxpayer dollars to stage this kind of event,” Henninger said. “We’re calling on him to return the money to the taxpayers and pay for his rally out of his campaign budget.”