Mayor, Nearly Half the Council Broke a San Jose Election Law

The sudden realization that most of San Jose’s lawmakers are law breakers is not the best way to end summer vacation. Not that they intended to end up on the wrong side of the law, of course. It’s just that, well, most of San Jose’s current elected officials didn’t really understand all that legal mumbo jumbo their predecessors cooked up. At least as far as it pertains to their own election transparency.

Earlier this summer, Manh Nguyen won a special election to fill the northside District 4 City Council seat. His victory was undercut weeks later, when he was fined $10K by the city’s ethics commission, which found that he repeatedly failed to disclose late contributions in a timely manner. About $280,000 of them. The city’s election code, Title 12, requires all candidates to file reports that note any contributions of $250 or more that were made between the last filing deadline and the election.

Nguyen’s media company was making tens of thousands of dollars in late in-kind contributions to his campaign. Those went unreported, leaving voters (but mainly campaign nerds) in the dark about how money was shaping the race. After he took the hit, Nguyen said the City Clerk’s office provided him bad info—and demanded an apology. That request had some merit, as he received a mea culpa letter from clerk Toni Taber this week.

But after taking a closer look at campaign filings of other council members who’ve run in the last year, as well as first-term Mayor Sam Liccardo, it seems nearly everyone has failed to comply with San Jose election laws. Liccardo hauled in more than 200 late contributions of $250 or more in the general election, but he only disclosed donors of $1,000 or above—the threshold required by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). His challenger in 2014, county Supervisor Dave Cortese, did the same thing. Council members who also failed to comply with Title 12's requirements in the last election cycle include: Magdalena Carrasco, Raul Peralez and Don Rocha. Other candidates who didn't make the cut and also didn't properly report: Xavier Campos, Maya Esparza, Paul Fong, Don Gagliardi and, of course, Nguyen’s opponent, Tim Orozco.

City Attorney Rick Doyle said it’s “clearly not a good situation” and there could be “some cleanup” required. Taber, the city clerk, said her office is in the process of reviewing last year's campaigns, but it's “possible all of them could have violated Title 12.’’ Because of the large number of documents the clerk receives and small number of staffers there are to review, most issues are only inspected when complaints come in, Taber said.

Where things go from here is anyone’s guess.

The clerk could issue fines to past candidates up to $100 per violation. That might not be an earth-shattering amount for most candidates, but it would be more than $10K for Liccardo and Cortese. Complicating matters, the city forces all campaigns to be closed within six months of an election, so almost all of these people would no longer have the ability to raise contributions to pay for any potential penalties.

From the city’s election code:

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 10.21.30 AM

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18 Comments

  1. This is the kind of mess that happens when the City Clerk and the Ethics Commission attempt to enforce rules that they don’t understand. Considering Liccardo’s million-dollar campaign with a professional treasurer made this mistake, I think it’s pretty clear that Scott Herhold owes Manh Nguyen an apology for blaming Manh’s mistake on “being too cheap to hire a treasurer”.

    • “This is the kind of mess that happens when the City Clerk and the Ethics Commission attempt to enforce rules that they don’t understand.”

      How do you conclude that blame lies with the Clerk and Ethics Commission when they are merely enforcing rules made up by prior City Councils.

      We have seen this time and time again from elected officials in SJ. Rich Robinson wrote a piece after the last fiasco basically saying the rules are so confusing thait is nearly impossible to avoid violating them.

      The “report” makes it sound like it is the council members and some of their election opponents didn’t quite understand the rules and failed to comply. Rules made up by prior councils.

      More interesting to me is the pattern that continues its course from the man who wears two hats, ( City Attorney and Consgliere ) Tricky Dick Doyle.

      Once again Doyle whose official title should mean that he is representing / protecting THE CITY and it’s RESIDENTS interests appears to be knee deep (1) interpreting the laws and identifying violators and their culpability and (2) tasked with advising the Council as a whole (made up and headed by individual violators) on how this might be cleaned up.

      I have no doubt (as long as the established pattern was followed) that the Clerk’s office advised Candidates of the rules and provided deadlines for filings while Doyle was called on by individual campaigns to provide legal advice on compliance…

      Herhold is an idiot on his best day and should outright retract his last piece (wonder if it was his close relationship with Sam that spurred it? Making him a useful idiot).

      Herhold says Manh should have hired a professional treasurer? Sounds like all campaigns need an attorney who is expert at campaign law compliance …. an attorney OTHER than San Jose City Attorney Doyle who seems to dispense alot of legal advicen-moat likely on City Time – to Council members on issues where they should be paying their own private attorney to advise them.

      • WeedMan: The San Jose City Attorney represents the City of San Jose, and only the City of San Jose. He does not represent its residents. He does not represent candidates for Mayor or City Council. Once one understands that, a candidate in her/his right mind would never approach the City Attorney for legal advice about compliance with San Jose’s particular rules and regulations for candidates and their reporting compliance. Neither the San Jose City Clerk nor the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters have the education, training, or experience to provide consistently accurate advice to candidates about how to comply with the confusing web of election rules and regulations for candidates. It is troubling that the rules are so extensive and confusing that candidates need to hire their own personal legal counsel in order to fully and properly comply with the patchwork of state and local regulations that control their actions as candidates. The situation is made worse by all the little local rules, which vary by jurisdiction. The state should preempt the field and prohibit all these additional rules by every city and town that wants to enter the field of campaign regulation.
        It would be better if we could have one unified rule for the entire state; but that would make it far easier for the lobbyists to water it down. That said, this individual patchwork of regulations city- by-city and county-by-county ends up requiring candidates to spend far too much money to research and comply with the ridiculous and sometimes contradictory patchwork of rules and regulations; money which could be better spent getting their message out to the voters…except that too many messages are about what an assh*ole, or incompetent, or whatever the opponent is. We need a single, statewide election code and regulations that all who run for office at any level must abide by, not either enhanced or watered down by what some local politician or local special interest group manages to get passed. Oh hell, I’m just dreaming. That will never happen.

        Campaign politics is a glaring example of how “freedom of speech” has been taken too far. The Brits handle this stuff far better than we do, both with individual speech and with the press. Perhaps we should study them and learn some lessons. Just because you CAN legally publish or say something does not mean that you SHOULD publish or say that something; whether it is a news story, an opinion piece, or an attack on an electoral opponent. The problem is that a significant percentage of the electorate is far too ignorant or biased to be allowed to have a say in who runs our government. Is that elitist? You bet it is. However, that’s what our Founding Fathers believed, and it remains far more true today than it was in 1776 or 1787. Here we are, less than 16 months from the next presidential election, and I have yet to see a single candidate running for that office from any political party who I consider worthy of that office. Every candidate decides which part of the electorate he or she will pander to, and that’s the message each candidate delivers to the whole electorate. What a bloody mess!! It is truly amazing that with all our muddling about, we still have the best system going on this planet.

        So much for my dreaming. I think I’ll just have another glass of pinot noir.

        • I agree The City Attornery shoukd not be providing legal advice to candidates or campaigns etc… however the is a long history of Doyle providing legal advice to individuals on matters way outside his office’s duties. Here are just a few: (1) advised Pierluigi on how to take down campaign signs (2) advised Constant that his chairmanship of the chamber of commerce PAC was a conflict of interest with his Council position (3) advised Liccardo Campaign (and other incumbents/office holders seeking hire office I’m sure) via of dates that campaigns could begin soliciting contributions… fine I guess but after the Liccardo campaign (not Councilman Liccardo but his CAMPAIGN violated the law and solicited AND ACCEPTED money prematurely Tha matter was dismissed when the Campaign returned the illegally obtained money whci I’m sure went through some re loving door right back to the campaign…with no ethics committee investigation much less ruling or sanction… no, Doyle wears 2 hats and continues to serve and protect individuals and their campaigns.

          For clarification by “taxpayers” I mean that we are represented by extension of the City Attorney’s duty to rep the City Govt…which we naively believe from Civics 101 serves us.

    • Circular Firing Squads. San Jose hasn’t changed a bit. Politicians ratting each other out,Blind taxpayers, Harvard Law School C- students and Baseball Park Scammers. Hay Liccardo are we going to get to use that sliver of land you caused the City to have pay $1,095,000.00 for and lease it back to the original owner for a $1.00 a year for a train station for all the baseball Fans who are coming to see the “A”s who won’t be there??????????? We are finding things out not because your transparent but because your sloppy.

  2. I guess I am wondering several things about the breaches of ethics rules committed by Magdalen Carrasco. For some reason, Carrasco has failed to file reports for her school board election, one that spent tens of thousands of dollars, all raised by charter school consultants, and operated by a consultant, who just happened to to get over 100 grand to coordinate an “independent committee” two years later. Also, there was the magical mystery trip to New York, which Toni Taber said was ok, and then weeks later, SJI broke the story it was not ok. Taber and Doyle remind me of those referees in old wrestling matches that watch while the Marvelous Moolah, Magdelena, gets to throw popcorn salt in the eyes of her opponents and do nothing.

  3. A century ago, corruption was commonplace. There is still plenty of it, but sometimes it seems there are more people trying to get other people in trouble than there is actual wrongdoing. This kind of gotcha legislation is part of our present culture, when a relatively innocent failure to follow dizzying regulations is the closest most people get to actual wrongdoing. Yet there are people looking to see who made this mistake – the net is out there, and eventually a fish or two will get caught. A century ago, noone would have noticed this particular mistake – there were plenty of lesser known regulations noone followed. Now, somebody will find the mistake and make it newsworthy.

    • I get your point but if the regulations are that confusing change them to make it more manageable while keeping the oversight. Our elected officials are way too influenced by special interest and not at all influenced by the regular citizens. They seem to see us as an annoyance at best, except around election and tax time.

    • Well VOICEOFREASON you got it way wrong. Corruption in San Jose City Hall is worst today than ever before. The current group of politicians at City Hall are worst than the politicians from Bell California. Do not take my word for it. Check out my open letter to Mayor Liccardo and the City Council, and my facebook page at these links: crnctz.blogspot.com/; opnlttr.com/letter/open-letter-san-jose-mayor-sam-liccardo-and-city-council; https://www.facebook.com/groups/624131267713226/. This is in reference to a cheating scandal relative to a lawsuit I filed. This is actual wrongdoing for which Mayor Liccardo, the City Council and City Attorney Rick Doyle should be held accountable. The mayor and city council are in this state of denial, even though my lawsuit is still pending. My lawsuit has cost the City a small fortune and is likely to cost much more. But dont count on the media in San Jose to expose the mayor and the city council because they have no courage or integrity. I have contacted them several times to do a story, all to no avail. This is a true story. The citizens of San Jose should be asking the mayor and city council a lot of questions.

    • > A century ago, corruption was commonplace.

      A big difference is that what was considered corruption a century ago, is considered legal, and hence “normal” today.

  4. … another observation worth mentioning here …

    SJI conducted investigations(s) into failure by other politicians to comply with campaign donation reporting laws… SJI demanded the harshest treatment (public humiliation AND JAIL) for Shirakawa and others while simultaneously Reporting/Excusing/dismissing violations by others… it will be interesting to see how SJI treats Rocha in followups as opposed to how they treat Liccardo. Will they treat Rocha like Shirakawa or Reed ?

    Will SJI treat Liccardo’s LATEST violation (yes he has documented priors) any differently than the last time?

  5. The San Jose City Attorney represents the City of San Jose, and only the City of San Jose. He does not represent its residents. He does not represent candidates for Mayor or City Council. Once one understands that, a candidate in her/his right mind would never approach the City Attorney for legal advice about compliance with San Jose’s particular rules and regulations for candidates and their reporting compliance. Neither the San Jose City Clerk nor the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters have the education, training, or experience to provide consistently accurate advice to candidates about how to comply with the confusing web of election rules and regulations for candidates. It is troubling that the rules are so extensive and confusing that candidates need to hire their own personal legal counsel in order to fully and properly comply with the patchwork of state and local regulations that control their actions as candidates. The situation is made worse by all the little local rules, which vary by jurisdiction. The state should preempt the field and prohibit all these additional rules by every city and town that wants to enter the field of campaign regulation.

  6. Sorry, but I just can’t get all riled up about this, when our community is facing so many other pressing issues i.e. homelessness, gang violence, vandalism, etc. It’s fairly apparent that with so many candidates in violation there is something wrong with the City Clerk and Ethics offices and not the candidates. Let’s move on.

  7. I love the way the article begins with, “The sudden realization….” Really. It just oozed up from the pavement ‘suddenly.’ The truth of the matter is that it flourished in an environment that was complacent, unmanaged, and uncaring. As the saying goes, ‘That which is important is managed or measured.’

  8. Hello? Has anyone checked out San Jose’s lobbyist? There could be a.problem. a 30 year old problem

  9. For a strong 21st Century city.
    Mayor has to widen it’s team, it’s dreams and vision.
    Traffic Problem
    General knowledge in between the society.
    Planning for most advanced city.
    Recruiting and hearing the small business owners.
    Conference centers,
    Public bath houses.
    City center planing.
    Parks.
    Modern vision.
    Light rail.
    Roads sidewalks
    Disabled citizens access to most possible.
    Working together with people will allow us to build for the future. Thanks