Rules to Consider Bill that Limits Nonprofit Political Spending

A gut-and-amend state Senate bill that would restrict nonprofits from spending taxpayer cash for political purposes has elicited opposition from K-12 and community college associations, various local governments—including San Jose—and the nonprofits that get money from them.

SB 594, penned by Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), would prohibit nonprofits from spending public money on a political campaign. City staff is recommending that the Rules and Open Government Committee vote to oppose it when it meets Wednesday.

We know, of course, since the Family Health Fiasco, which involved the Santa Clara Family Health Foundation and VMC Foundation organizing a county sales tax measure with newly elected Supervisor Cindy Chavez, that plenty of nonprofits founded to help disadvantaged communities transmogrify into purely political machines because of existing law that allows them to spend money from public agencies on political interests.

SCFHF, for example, was founded to raise money to pay for impoverished kids’ health insurance premiums. Today, it’s now known as the Healthier Kids Foundation. Political aspirant Kathleen King remains in control of the tax-exempt political entity that provides year-round help to the South Bay Labor Council and Working Partnerships USA campaign organizations. The foundation helped poll and campaign for Measure A, a 1/8th cent county sales tax that passed last year.

Current law already bans use of public funds on ballot measures or candidate campaigns. SB 594, however, would redefine “public resources” to preclude lots of the activities private nonprofit organizations perform to support or challenge ballot measures. Opponents like the city worry that the bill could bar employees, board members and officers of a nonprofit supported by public and private money from getting involved in a ballot measure campaign. It would render illegal the very mission of the local Santa Clara Family health foundation.

If passed, the legislation could silence associations representing school administrators, school boards, fire chiefs, sheriffs, police chiefs, city council members and county supervisors, says Julie White, an executive of the Association of California School Administrators.

“While proponents are claiming this bill is an attempt to get public funding out of political campaigns (something we can all agree on), the actual language of SB 594 goes much, much further,” she writes for California Majority Report.

The bill, White says, would diminish the political influence of organizations like the California School Boards Association, California Police Chiefs Association, California State Sheriffs Association, California State Association of Counties, the League of California Cities and hundreds of other associations.

“SB 594 would effectively shut us out of actively campaigning for ballot measures that involve many of California’s most important issues–silencing the voices of trusted organizations on matters of critical importance to our constituents and the residents of California,” she continues.

The bill also institutes new reporting requirements for private nonprofits that get more than one-fifth of their annual gross revenue from one or more public agencies. The city worries that this could scare some nonprofits from working with local government. (Read the bill language.)

More from the San Jose Rules and Open Government Committee agenda for September 4, 2013:

• With the National Hispanic University growing and becoming and increasingly important part of South Bay’s academic community, Councilman Xavier Campos asks the city to consider making the roadway alongside it—Story Road from Lower Silvercreek to Clayton Road—a priority for economic development.

• San Jose’s poised to support the League of California Cities endorsement of a statewide $11.14 billion water bond ballot measure which, if approved by voters, would fund drought relief, integrated regional water management, watershed protection, groundwater cleanup and water recycling. San Jose has a vested interest in getting the bond passed since it has a number of storm water projects that could benefit from the bond funding.

The city also encourages the league of cities to meet with Gov. Jerry Brown to figure out deficiencies in the way local government handles and monitors low-level offenders since the state pushed a lot of that responsibility to county sheriff’s office under last year’s public safety realignment (AB 109). That’s especially important for the city’s police department since more than 58 percent of the non-violent offenders released in Santa Clara County live in San Jose.

• The ever eagle-eyed David Wall has three letters worth of diatribes against the city for botching the Environmental Innovation Center, a project delayed because the city hired a shady, financially embattled contractor to build it.

• A woman writes to the “city counsel” asking them to convince Campbell Unified School District to do something about gangs assembling at Rosemary Elementary School’s sports field, which, she says, is littered with used condoms, graffiti and trash.

“We as neighbors are sick of the ghetto scene that we’ve complained to Campbell USD about an have gotten no recourse,” she writes in what comes off as a slightly racist missive when she complains about a festival where she was “’treated’ to a PA loudspeaker amplifying someone yelling and mariachi music.”

It’s unclear what she hopes the Rules committee can do, considering Campbell isn’t in San Jose.

• Before the economy tanked five or so years ago, the City Council used to hold twice-monthly night meetings to go over development applications. Once the Great Recession brought development to a grinding halt, the council halved those meetings to once a month. Now, Planning, Building and Code Enforcement Director Joseph Horwedel says enough applications are coming through that the council should consider upping those meetings back to twice a month starting at 7pm Nov. 5.

• A bunch of private developers have submitted applications for land-use and transportation modifications to the city’s San Jose 2040 General Plan—basically a blueprint for future growth. The Planning Commission will discuss some of those permit requests when it meets Sept. 22. Rules wants to follow up and talk about those, too, before the measures head to the council. Rules will hold a special General Plan hearing at 7pm Oct. 22.

WHAT: Rules and Open Government Committee meets
WHEN: 2pm Wednesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

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