Will SVO Schism Undermine Group’s Political Influence?

Infighting at the Silicon Valley Organization (SVO)—neé San Jose-Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce—finally reached a breaking point. After months of bickering over whether SVO’s political fundraising arm is autonomous from the parent entity, a cast of longtime members—Christopher Escher, Suzanne Salata, Jan Schneider, Phil Boyce— decamped to form their own PAC.

Members of the splinter group voiced frustration with SVO Executive Director Matt Mahood, who, in their view, has allowed Silicon Valley tech giants to outweigh the influence of small- to medium-size companies. They also took issue with Mahood installing four people on the eight-member SVO PAC who hold purse strings with no obligation to raise money.

But part of the split is ideological.

Mahood, who defected from the GOP for its embrace of then-candidate Donald Trump, has positioned himself as more of a centrist than the old guard would like. That centrist-conservative divide also featured into the debate over whether or not to endorse a Santa Clara County supervisor candidate in the June primary.

The future splinter group wanted to go all-in for ex-San Jose councilman Pierluigi Oliverio, a reliable business vote, while others wanted to sit things out to avoid the awkwardness of backing the opponent of then-SVO employee Susan Ellenberg. Oliverio, of course, won the PAC’s blessing but lost the election while SVO lost Ellenberg, who won a shot at the fall runoff against Councilman Don Rocha.

Some observers predict that the schism will undermine efforts to advance business interests in local politics by dividing the camp. Others at SVO seemed unfazed.

SVO, thanks in no small part to its No. 2 Madison Nguyen, still wields considerable fundraising power, as evidenced by the $250,000 generated by last week’s annual barbecue shindig. And despite rumors that he’s looking for a new gig, Mahood seems content to stay put. For now.

This article has been updated. A previous version incorrectly stated that Bill Baron joined the new PAC. He did not.

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5 Comments

  1. To me, this sounds like a story of the ‘old guard’ trying to hang out to a shred of relevancy. Good luck!

    • And they backed a loser in the campaign which makes them even more irrelevant.

    • Hey Robyn,

      We are a national non-profit operating in the South Bay. We listen to and help small business owners on access to capital, wealth-building, retirement options and healthcare affordability. We also conduct independent polling and research. I would be happy to chat with you sometime. Please visit us at smallbusinessmajority.org!

  2. Around the country and around the world, a business organization is referred to as “The Chamber of Commerce” and everyone understand what these organizations do and what they stand for. Not here. Who, outside of its staff, knows what the Silicon Valley Organization is or does? Old Guard-New Guard? Who cares? No one knows about SVO.

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