Dave Cortese Returns $10,000 in Campaign Cash

Taking a page from the script of “Friends,” Dave Cortese has resorted to the Ross Geller defense. The San Jose mayoral candidate returned a haul of campaign cash improperly collected shortly after the June primary, and he’s defended himself by stating that his campaign was on “a break.”

The San Jose Ethics Commission ruled last week that Cortese should return $9,825.

"[Cortese] told us that he intends on returning all contributions received before June 17, 2014," the Sept. 2 report states. "[A]s of the date of this report, [he] has not provided evidence that he has actually returned the contributions."

City code says that candidates for office can’t accept contributions until they file a Form 500, which states whether they’ll adhere to the voluntary expenditure limit. But Cortese didn’t file the paperwork until June 17, agreeing to the spending cap for the Nov. 4 election. (He later changed his mind, opting out of the $794,342.68 spending cap).

Cortese told the commission that 18 contributions received in early June were unsolicited and came while he “took a 10-day break from all campaign activities.”

Ragan Henninger, campaign manager for Cortese’s opponent, San Jose Councilman Sam Liccardo, called that a lame excuse for a lawyer, a Santa Clara County supervisor and someone who’s run for office a half-dozen times in Silicon Valley.

“It’s mindboggling that Cortese wouldn’t take the law more seriously—and that he thinks ‘taking a break’ is a reasonable excuse for ignoring it,” says Henninger, who filed the complaint with the Ethics Commission. “[He] chose to walk away from his responsibilities as a candidate for public office.”

The Cortese campaign dismissed the complaint as “blatantly political” and proof that Liccardo is “more interested in political gamesmanship than addressing the growing needs of San Jose residents.” All 18 donations were returned, says Cortese spokesman Vince Rocha, adding that the commission voted unanimously not to issue a reprimand or fine because there were extenuating circumstances.

Correction: A previous version of this story had an inaccurate headline. San Jose Inside regrets the error.

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


  1. Hello Pot , This is Kettle . Did Liccardo’s Lackey , Ragan Henninger forget about his candidates questionable fundraising ?? or “Its what winners do ” . The only thing mindboggling about this that the Liccardo campaign seems to believe that its ok for them to stretch , bend or ignore the rules . But its the death penalty for anybody else. 11 burglaries in one day , 37 over the last few days , make no mistake things will only get worse should the arrogant ,elitist , Non-negotiating Liccardo become Mayor

    • We all know that Cortese is the one who wouldn’t negotiate with unions…….he would simply CAVE to them.

      • SJC –

        Cave? Just stick with that for a minute.. If we compare extremes, ZERO meaningful negotiation went on prior to Measure B at the hands of this council. So what is worse? (Queue the “voter approved” line…) Yeah.. The %10 of the total registered voters who were duped and now regret their decision!

        I have an idea for you.. Go gather all of the families who’ve had their houses burglarized over the past six months (you’ll need a large venue BTW) and ask them how they feel about their safety now. Offer to negotiate with them about bringing their once great police force back and see how well it goes.. Or how long you can stand up front before objects begin being hurled at you…

        • What percentage vote do you look for before considering that vote legitimate? It sems like you and other labor lackeys either a) want to vote early and often or b) cry foul and accuse votes of being illegitimate because they didnt go your way………..was Chucks’ election to mayor legitimate in2 2006, was Cindy’s election to Supervisor legitimate? At what point do es the blame go to the campaign that lost for not providing information San Joseans could really wrap their heads around.

          • A majority might be nice…..of the population, not the privileged stay-at-home googlers and cisco clones who have nothing better to do than push away from the computer to vote during their 3 hour lunch.

          • When was the last time a majority of the population voted on anything – Chuck’s 20 point win over Cindy Chavez? Expecting more than 50% of San Jose’s voting population to vote in a non-mayoral election is a pipe dream. It is surprising how the well-organized unions lost out to an unorganized majority.

    • The FPPC threw those complaints out, and Henninger’s quote has been completely construed by the implied notion that the “that” in her quote (“that’s what winners do”) refers to cheating, when her full quote shows that she was referring to the act of campaigning in December, which is completely allowed by election codes. That’s exactly why the FPPC threw out the complaint against Liccardo.

      As a brief aside, I’ll note that the use of this sound bite is very similar to the reaction of many conservatives to President Obama’s 2012 “you didn’t build that” remarks. Without proper context, people construct new meanings in their heads for pronouns. Obama’s quote was easier to jump to conclusions on, however, because he names a secondary noun (“your own business”) that appears to be referred to by the sentence’s pronoun. It is my belief that your assumption that the pronoun in Henninger’s sentence refers to cheating is mostly due to your own political biases. I ask that you do not dismiss my alternative perspective, but instead to go back, reread the SJI article that features Henninger’s quote, and consider her statement further.

      Regardless of that quote, if you were ever genuinely mad at Liccardo because you thought he cheated, you should be mad at Cortese now, because he’s been caught doing the exact same thing that Steve Kline accused Liccardo of.

      • CARTHAGUS…With all due respect, when you spout off something you may feel is fact you might want to do a little fact checking:

        It was not the FPPC that cleared Liccardo but the San Jose Ethics Commission, the same commission that found Cortese had violated the law with his fundraising. Why is this important you ask? Because the the San Jose Ethics Commission was appointed by Mayor Reed and confirmed by the majority of the current city council including Liccardo himself. The commission is a farce and has no credibility. There is a definite conflict here and most thinking people would agree. For more information on how the San Jose Ethics Commission is appointed, I invite you to look here:


        The San Jose Ethics Commission is nothing more than a kangaroo court for the current mayor and city council.

  2. Henninger didn’t hesitate to cover Liccardo’s ass for violating the election code a couple months back…

    • My rememberence of the issue a few months back was that Liccardo didn’t violate election code at all. There was a violation of the local code, which is different than elections code, and it wasn’t his violation. It was one of his supporters who sent an email out a day early. That’s different.

  3. Who the heck is Henneger trying to fool, its like the pot calling the kettle black. Liccardo and Henneger were both caught with thier hands in the proverbial fundraising cookie jar earlier this year.


    Not only was Henneger un-apologetic in Liccardo’s fund raising violations in true elitist form she went on to say “…This is what winners do.” How arrogant is that? Henneger went on to say that the fundraising violation by the Liccardo camp “…was totally a violation”

    Give me a break…this is complete political grandstanding by the Liccardo camp and Henneger.

    • Michael, do you deny that Cortese took illegal campaign money? Ethics commission was pretty clear here.

      • Its not a matter of did Cortese took illegal campaign contributions. The FPPC went on to say “…the commission voted unanimously not to issue a reprimand or fine because there were extenuating circumstances.” My issue is with Henneger who is the campaign manager for Liccardo who knew that the Liccardo campaign fundraising was “totally a violation” and then throwing it into the face of voters by stating “This is what winners do.” For Henneger to make these statements and know in advance they were violating the law, then call out the Cortese campaign for a differing legal interpretation of the law is completely hypocritical. And at best self serving. You need to remember the following:

        Henneger is Sam Liccardo’s campaign manager.
        Henneger is the one who filed the FPPC complaint.
        Henneger is the one who admitted that she and Liccardo “totally” violated the law when it came to their own fundraising activities.
        Henneger is the one who said “this is what winners do” when she and Liccardo were caught knowingly violating the law.

        • Michael, go back and reread the article, but those two quotes you just shared referred to two completely different things. The violation Henninger refers to is an overly zealous supporter who invited friends to attend a campaign event at his house after the campaign start date – totally allowed. The problem was, the supporter referred to the event as a “fundraiser” in his email rather than using a campaign-approved invitational message which used the language legally allowed. The Liccardo campaign admitted that this was a violation, though it is about as minor as it can get, and the FPPC agreed- though Liccardo returned the money (I can’t remember exactly how much, but I think $1,500) that was donated to him at the event (this event was held after the campaign start date, but the invites went out before the start date- once again, acceptable for campaign events with the exception of fundraisers). This was one of eight separate charges files by Steve Kline. Ragan’s quote referred to the campaign’s decision to hold campaign events in the month of December, a decision which Steve Kline alleged was illegal in his seven other complaints but which the FPPC ruled was perfectly acceptable. And now, Dave Cortese is LITERALLY raising money before the fundraising start date for his campaign.

      • And you have to remember the San Jose Ethics Commission was completely appointed current Mayor Chuck Reed and approved by the current city council members including Sam Liccardo. Do you call this a kangaroo court against Liccardo??? Absolutely !!!! for information on how the San Jose Ethics Commission members get appointed i invite you tokk look here:


  4. I am disappointed with SJI. In the past, you were much more balanced in the sides you presented. In this mayoral election, your bias is obviously pro Liccardo and anti Cortese, as evidenced by the weekly drumbeat of negative articles towards Cortese. Also, it is unbelievable that you gave zero coverage to 4 former SJ police chiefs coming together to warn of the dire consequence of this current mayor and administration. It seems like you are becoming a smaller version of the SJ Mercury.

    • Observation- SJI did report on the Cortese claim against Sam. Sam was found innocent. Cortese has been found guilty.the truth hurts. Face the real facts…..not what you personally want them to be.

      • Sam was found innocent by a kangaroo commission, and the facts are that Liccardo et al has the Mercury in his pocket. 4 former San Jose police chiefs just came together to blast Liccardo and some of the other city council members and mayor on their complete ineptitude and malfeasance which has resulted in the destruction of the SJPD. Face those real facts, or are these chiefs wrong too?

        • Drawing from that same well again are we…a comission that finds Cortese guilty and Liccardo innocent is a ‘kangaroo court’ and Liccardo has Merc ‘in his pocket’…If Merc was really in the picket of Cortese they would prob be wondering why Cortese endorsed Xavier Campos re-election bid! I would like to know the answer to that – do you have it?

          • No…it’s a kangaroo court because the San Jose Ethics Commission was appointed by Mayor Reed and those appointments were confirmed by the majority of the city council, including Liccardo himself.

  5. I waited 24 hours before commenting. Kind of one of those, “On your toes” kind of articles to respond to.

    So what gives Jen? Even the title is misleading.

    Dave Cortese Ordered to Return $10,000 in Campaign Cash

    But right below you give the real dollar amount, which is $9,825. So why such a misleading title? Why not say,

    Dave Cortese Ordered to Return Almost $10,000 in Campaign Cash

    That would have at least been accurate. While folks might want to quibble with me over $275 dollars, or maybe say, “But it was 2.75% innacurate, well within the tolerance range for journalistic integrity” I have to disagree. Get it 100% right, or don’t bother printing it.

    Dave Cortese, seen with his father Dom at one of the family’s orchards

    Jen, that’s the ONLY orchard left…. It’s not even an Orchard. It’s some mixed trees behind my great grandfathers place near McKee and Toyon. I encourage every reader here to drive down McKee towards Toyon, and look for an Orchard. You won’t find one. About the only thing done there is some basic landscaping and pruning, but fruit isn’t harvested. It’s a non-working orchard. Jen, the way you frame this article, it’s almost as if you insinuate our family still has multiple Orchards scattered about San Jose. Anyone with a 1/2 a brain would know, there simply isn’t any orchards anymore.

  6. Liar,liar,liar,cheat, cheat, liar, cheat, liar, liar. How to describe Dave Cortese in 10 words or less. Cortese is the one who buried San Jose and is bankrupting the County. Reed inherited the mess Cortese and Ron Gonzales made during their terms on San Jose City Council. Dave supported a convicted felon, a bankrupt ambulance company and is just plain corrupt.

  7. Bum Phillips used to say there are two kinds of coaches, “them who have been fired and them who are going to be fired.” The same could be said about all political candidates given the plethora of mostly unconstitutional laws which they are required to comply, “them who have violated campaign disclosure law and them who going to violate campaign finance law.”

    Both of our Mayoral candidates are basically honest people who have fundamental disagreements with each other. Can we concentrate on real issues and avoid this tit for tat distraction?

  8. My earlier posts have me referring to the FPPC ruling against Liccardo. It was not the FPPC but the San Jose Ethics Commission. Sorry to all for the confusion.

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