Ethics Commission to Investigate Council, Mayor, Past Candidates

San Jose’s Ethics Commission has launched an investigation into dozens of elected leaders and candidates who flouted local election law.

Commissioners chose to target 40 people in a single fell swoop instead of waiting on people to file separate complaints against each rule-breaker. Scores of candidates and virtually the entire City Council have broken local election code by improperly reporting late campaign donations.

City Clerk Toni Taber nearly lost her job over the fiasco after it came to light that she misguided candidates, telling them to adhere to state law instead of stricter local rules on reporting contributions.

The problem surfaced after someone filed a complaint about missing campaign filings against Manh Nguyen, who won the District 4 council seat in a special election this past June. The Ethics Commission—unaware of the dozens of other unwitting scofflaws—found him guilty as charged and stuck him with a $10,000 fine.

Nguyen blamed Taber, who admitted she steered him wrong and urged commissioners to forgive the 10-grand judgment. State law requires candidates to report contributions of $1,000 or more within 24 hours, while city law requires the same for donations of $250 or more.

Commission chair Michael Smith seemed open to the idea of dismissal when the board met Wednesday, but he deferred a decision until the other violators have been investigated, too.

Someone also filed a complaint against Nguyen’s opponent in the District 4 council race, Tim Orozco, which pointed to more than a dozen missing filings that could merit anywhere from a $1,000 minimum to a $14,000 penalty.

12 Comments

  1. Ignorance of the law is not a defense. Auto parts stores sell things that are not street legal, but if you get caught with them on your car, YOU are responsible.

    The Commission does not make the campaign laws; it investigates and imposes fines when violations occur. Who makes San Jose Election Laws? The City Council, Mayor included. Sham Lie-car-doh made the law and voted for it. Our local officials should be held accountable.

    If your tax guy make errors in calculations? YOU still have to pay proper income tax. Even if the City Clerk messed up, or your lawyer/campaign manager gives you poor advice, YOU are responsible (looking at you Mayor.)

    Hold the politicians feet to the fire! Fine them all, every penny.

  2. ‘Past candidates’, too? Ha, ha. That I would like to see!

    The pompously self-styled ‘Pierluigi’ Oliverio was caught on video, stealing another candidate’s property:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iotM96vjEuw#t=52

    If you or I were a thief, caught on camera, I’m sure law enforcement would give us a pass… right? Sure.

    It’s another mockery of the city’s pretending to care:

    The City of San José is committed to open and honest government and strives to consistently meet the community’s expectations…

    Yeah, Ri-i-i-i-ight. Whatever you say, boss.

    The “community’s expectations” are that everyone should be treated the same, whether they’re on the city Council, or a nobody like me.

    Does anyone believe that will happen?

    • PierL went to Consigliere Rick Doyle who interpreted the law -granted he cautioned PLO against removing campaign signs but, as long as PLO was acting as a private Citizen it was defensible because who could be upset if a private citizen were simply removing ‘trash’? Right? Forget about it…!

      Now what about that other thing? You know with the woman? Who said Pier made advances … yes she dropped Pier from the suit but did he pay to settle? We’ll never know because of confidentiality? Fine, it’s done then. Let’s eat.

  3. It is truly Pathetic that just about every council member and Mayor for the last 2 decades is more than likely guilty of at least minor infractions , while other should be jailed for their misuse of power. This once proud City has become a cesspool. crooked and or corrupt politicians should be held accountable for their misdeeds. Most of my family and friends have already fled this “joke ” of a city . as for me I’m waiting to retire , sell my hose and never look back

  4. “Ignorance of the law is not a defense,” says Jate Naeger. Yeah, but that pretty much applies only to us peons. Reliance on the advice of counsel is usually a defense. Reasonable reliance on Ms. Taber probably should be a defense. The remaining questions are—was it reasonable to rely on a non-attorney for legal advice regarding local campaign laws, and was it reasonable to vest a non-attorney with authority to dispense that advice? My answer to both questions is “no.”As a lawyer, perhaps Sam should have known better. However, I doubt he was personally involved in obtaining advice from Ms. Taber. The real problem is the dizzying array of local campaign finance ordinances which are piled upon the statewide campaign finance legislation. Fixing the blame should give way to fixing the problem. Easier said than done when lawyers are involved. For example, back in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s now retired Superior Court Judge John Flaherty promulgated a very simple rule for local prosecutors to follow—turn over to the defense every bit of evidence you have regarding each defendant. What could be simpler? That is now the rule statewide, Yet to this day, despite dozens of appellate court rulings upholding that very simple rule, some Deputy DA’s still don’t abide by it. They fail to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense, giving a whole bunch of lame excuses as to why they didn’t after they are caught. Some, like Ben Field, ex-SCC DDA, failed to do so and disobeyed direct prohibitions from the court. So, he was suspended from the practice of law by the State Bar for 4 years for such failures. Then Ben Field was elected to the post of Executive Officer of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council in December 2012. So, if intelligent people like some Deputy DA’s can’t seem to follow a very simple rule (what is it about “everything” that you don’t understand?) how can we expect Ms. Taber and a bunch of political candidates to follow a complicated set of rules that change with each local jurisdiction? State legislation on the subjects it reaches is uniform throughout the state. State Rules of Court, which cover procedure, are uniform throughout the state. Yet most counties have their own Local Rules of Court, seemingly designed as traps for the unwary, which usually means out-of-town attorneys. The same is true for local campaign finance rules—they are traps for the unwary. I believe that at the end of the day everyone needs to be given a pass on their transgressions, including Ms. Taber. Then we need to have only one set of rules statewide that applies to everyone. The state should preempt the field. Will it be perfect? Probably not. Will some local jurisdictions chafe at not being able to put their two cents worth into the issue? Probably so. But if we keep this local option to add to state campaign finance law, every candidate for every office will need to hire a lawyer who specializes in campaign finance law in order to run for even the smallest local office. The financial barriers to seeking office are high enough as it is without adding that additional burden to the mix.

    • Yeah Field? Well Flaherty was the mutually agreed upon mutual “judge” in the Measure V Goverened arbitration case between the POA and the City dealing with the “voluntariness”, sunset and restoration of the 10% pay the POA Membership agreed to the help the City through the worldwide economic problems…

      Turned out Flaherty ruled against the POA even after voicing concerns over the veracity of positions the City was defending. It Pontius Pilated his ruling saying in effect – ya POA you’re right but the law that is Measure V decides for me so the 10% pay reduction stands.”

      Turns out Flaherty’s wife was a bigshot on the Friends of the Library.

      Big deal? Potential Conflict of interest? Maybe not. But, maybe it was…. the Friend’s were very vocal about cutting public employee pay in every instance except for librarians and to direct salary savings from non-librarians to the library budget to keep them open more hours and days of the week -you know as a “crime fighting” strategy. It wasn’t too long after Flaherty’s “decision” that the money appeared from thin air to increase library hours of operation…

      Do you think this is one of the “big” stories that SJI is following up on? They/you pretty much have run Fields history into the ground even after he paid the “price” of loosing his job, etc… kind of like Shirakawa… the stories that never die and those that we conveniently like to ignore.

    • Liccardo voted for the law- he literally enacted it, himself, when on the City Council. Seriously, to feign innocence and deflect blame to his campaign and Taber is pretty lame.

  5. > But if we keep this local option to add to state campaign finance law, every candidate for every office will need to hire a lawyer who specializes in campaign finance law in order to run for even the smallest local office.

    But . . .

    Wouldn’t that be insanely expensive?

    Wouldn’t that discourage modestly funded candidates from running for office?

    Wouldn’t that have a chilling effect on the political process and discourage participation?

    Who would favor such a system?

    Hmmmmm.

    Thinking…. thinking…. thinking….

    • Wow, Bubble Man, you grasped my point. Attaboy!! That’s why we really need to eliminate all local campaign finance laws and have just one statewide set of rules.

      • We may have found another job for retired IPA Cordell. Let’s apply the same standard of review to political candidates that we do for the police.

        Perhaps the process could be such that anyone who wishes to do so can lodge a complaint regarding any sort of (real or imagined) political practice, campaign finance, or other irregularity or suspected misconduct. Then, as is the case with the police, even an unsupported, bald accusation will be enough to start an investigation by the PD. This investigation will be reviewed and monitored by the PD’s Internal Affairs Unit and the Chief’s office, as well as monitored by IPA (Independent Political Auditor?) Cordell.

        At the same time, the “politically related” complaint will also be investigated and reviewed by the District Attorney’s office, then presented to the County Grand Jury, as well as investigated by the State Department of Justice, reviewed by the State Attorney General, as well as investigated by the Federal Department of Justice, and reviewed by the Federal Attorney General, as well as presented to a Federal Grand Jury, and further investigated by the FBI (Civil Rights division which would then include a newly created branch, the “Political Practices” division). ( I’m leaving out the “Trial in the Court of Public Opinion”)

        And in order to help prevent any improper political practice or dealings, let’s have every candidate wear a body camera at all times while campaigning. We already have this review process in place for all police use of force incidents. (Just read the news or blogs or ask any cop who has ever been involved in a serious or “Cordell-Sharpton 3-ring political circus” or “media extravaganza” use of force event.)

        Let’s just apply the same time proven standards and process of review to our “political elites” as we do with our police officers… and before I forget, let’s gather each elected official’s yearly incomes and expense accounts ( including perks like use of City vehicles, free gas and maintenance, free parking space; “complimentary” meals and junkets for “political” purposes) and post these online too. I mean, they’re public servants too, right?