Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that chambers of commerce, of which the Water District is a member, made monetary contributions to supporting Measure B. The ballot measure was also not endorsed by Cupertino and Milpitas chambers, but it did get an endorsement from the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce, an association the Water District does not pay dues. San Jose Inside regrets the error.
It’s no secret that public agencies pay to network. But it is interesting to see who’s spending how much on what, like membership dues to organizations that support ballot measures and public policy changes.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District paid nearly $70,000 in membership fees last fiscal year to a long list of chambers of commerce and other networking associations. Eighteen groups collected dues from the district, with the highest individual payment of $16,500 going to the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. Readers might recall that some of that money inappropriately went to the chamber’s political action committee (PAC).
Not surprising, almost every single chamber of commerce on the list endorsed the Measure B water tax. The measure, which passed in a landslide victory last fall, extends a parcel tax for another 15 years to raise $400 million. The Measure B ballot statement says that money will go toward bolstering the region’s infrastructure against flooding and other natural disasters.
Giving taxpayer dollars to organizations that, in turn, gave an endorsement to support the tax measure isn’t a quid pro quo or form of lobbying, insists Rick Callender, head of government relations for the Water District, which serves 1.8 million people in Santa Clara County.
“The district does not lobby chambers on water issues,” Callender says. “Chambers of commerce are in the business of advocating for the valley’s economic prosperity by ensuring that Silicon Valley is provided its fair share of infrastructure dollars, that policies made at the state, local and federal level take into account the needs of the business community and don’t impact the creation or protection of jobs.
“We are in the business of infrastructure and water supply, which is a priority for nearly all chambers of commerce throughout the state.”
Thanks to San Jose Inside commenter “s randall,” we have a tidy list of Water District contributions to chambers of commerce. (These numbers were confirmed with the Water District.)
Callender argues that these payments were not made so chambers would reciprocate by giving their stamp of approval.
“Chambers of commerce, like many other organizations and associations, are membership-based organizations which require paying annual dues in order to participate and belong,” Callender says. “All participating members of the chambers of commerce, including the district, pay dues to belong, participate and establish policies of the particular chamber.”
These chambers often form committees that address public services like energy, the environment, public safety and water. Naturally, public agencies in charge of those interests want to participate in those discussions that often influence lawmakers, Callender says.
“The district participates in public policy, environmental and infrastructure policy committees of the chambers as a members to identify, analyze and establish legislative positions and policies,” he says.
So, has the water district’s involvement paid off? It depends how much one wants to connect the dots.
“As a result of the district’s memberships in these types of organizations, the valley has benefited to the tune of $162 million dollars in infrastructure funding from the federal government alone in the last 10 years,” Callender says. “This does not take into account the millions of dollars, not to mention jobs, saved through the prevention of harmful public policy issues which would have negatively impacted the valley and Chamber members.”
Callendar also says that Water District’s memberships are a service to the chambers, which rely on experts in various fields to lead discussions about which legislation and lobbying interests to support that would improve the region.
“All chambers of commerce rely on their members to bring their particular business expertise to the table during the discussion, so that the policy positions established make sense for the community and support the local economy,” Callender continues. “As the only business provider of flood infrastructure and wholesale water in the valley, we bring our expertise to the table that would be excluded if we were not members.”
So, in conclusion, the Water District pays money to give its advice to business people who would otherwise not have an interest in letting them in the door.
Chamber memberships at-a-glance
• Campbell Chamber of Commerce–$1,500
• Cupertino Chamber of Commerce– $4,120
• Gilroy Chamber of Commerce–$375
• Milpitas Chamber of Commerce–$2,485
• Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce–$2,000
• Mountain View Chamber of Commerce–$8,000
• Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce–$4,100
• San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce–$16,500
• Santa Clara Chamber of Commerce–$5,000
• Sunnyvale Chamber of Commerce–$6,500