Patricia Mahan Violated Santa Clara’s New Lobbyist Rules; City Attorney May Have Own Conflicts

Santa Clara enacted a new lobbyist ordinance earlier this year, and the first violation has created what appear to be additional conflicts of interest. Patricia Mahan, a former mayor and councilwoman, violated the city’s ordinance by failing to register as a lobbyist, according to a report by outside investigator Joan Borger. But thanks to some vague fine print, Mahan—once again running for a seat on the City Council—isn’t expected to get in any trouble, because she says she didn’t know she was acting like a lobbyist. Mahan argues that billboard company AllVision hired her to work as an attorney, which would make her exempt from the new rules. However, rather than being a simple paper-pusher, she began scheduling meetings with most of the council members and Mayor Lisa Gillmor to discuss a two-sided digital billboard off of Highway 101. Borger’s report notes that Mahan often “discussed the potential benefits of the proposal for the city,” which sure sounds like lobbying. Councilwoman Debi Davis told Fly that she thought Mahan “absolutely” was a lobbyist, because “she wanted me to approve a project.” But according to Borger’s report, “enforcement of the ordinance requires a ‘knowing’ violation of the ordinance,” and Mahan thought she was exempt because she was hired as an attorney—nevermind the fact that she is an estate planning attorney. Mahan will likely go unpunished, but City Attorney Ren Nosky might have some explaining to do. After a complaint on Mahan’s lobbyist activity came in from City Clerk candidate Deborah Bress, Nosky recused himself from the investigation because he had previously given Mahan an unspoken go-ahead to continue her meetings. Nosky then hired Borger, but it’s not known if he disclosed their relationship. Davis tells Fly that Nosky admitted Borger “is a friend of mine” from her time working for the city of Sunnyvale, in addition to saying he thought Mahan did nothing wrong. After initially declining comment, Nosky confirmed in an email exchange Tuesday evening he had multiple conversations with Mahan about the investigation, but he added that “virtually all of these contacts” occurred before the complaint.

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7 Comments

  1. Two terms in office and off to jail you must go! Is it any wonder we can’t find good people to run for office these days.

  2. What is extremely interesting is that Debi Davis met formally with Patty Mahan on this billboard subject on May 23rd. She then gets the impression that Patty Mahan is a “lobbyist.” Yet three days later she travels with this “Lobbyist” to Montana for the next 8 days or so staying as a guest in Patty Mahan’s Montana home, eating her food, driving around in Patty’s car and having a great old time as the lobbyist’s quest in Montana. Hmmmmmmmm…. taking gifts from a lobbyist is illegal per the City of Santa Clara Lobbtyist Ordnance. And, of course, Debi Davis is very proud that she is the Chairman of the City’s Ethics Committee, etc.

    • Interesting question. But did Mahan tell Davis that she didn’t have to register. If so, that’s deceptive or fraudulent or sleazy. The way I read it, Mahan has got a whole lotta people in doo doo by not registering. The billboard company, the city attorney, council people, the reputation of the city, people who are defending her … She doesn’t sound like a person that you’d want anywhere near a city hall.

    • If a person is trying to sway a councillor’s opinion in favor of (or against) a certain company or project, and that person is being paid by the company or project to sway the opinion of a councillor, then that person is a lobbyist. What is surprising is that Ms. Mahan, having had so many years on the city’s council, apparently tried to pass off these payments as her working as an attorney for the company. In which case, wasn’t discussing anything about the company a breach of attorney/client privilege? I would have hoped that she would take the high road and done more (rather than less) to comply with lobbyist rulings and erred on the side of caution to make sure she was being completely upfront about being paid to influence opinion and push a project. Of course, Ms. Davis is proud of being chair of an ethics committee in which the lobbyist ordinance and open calendars were brought forward and at last approved. She and the other members of the committee managed to let some air and light into the workings of a city that, under the council of a year or two ago, was becoming more and more of a back-door, back-room, back-handed, “what’s in it for me?” government.

  3. Between this and the dark money from 49ers for allegedly influencing the city elections, the whole situation reeks of corruption.

  4. But according to Borger’s report, “enforcement of the ordinance requires a ‘knowing’ violation of the ordinance,”. Whatever happened to “ignorance of the law is no excuse”? Apparently that maxim is selectively enforced. It’s the local version of Comey’s report on Hillary’s emails. The statute is clear, it does not involve knowledge or intent. Yet Hillary walks, and so will Mahan, apparently.

    • I got some parking tickets last year. Wish I knew this a legit defense. I did’t know red curb means no parking. Stupid me.