Politics Roils the 16th District Recount, Extending Count

If anyone thought a week ago that the “machine recount” of more than 190,000 ballots cast in two counties for the 16th Congressional District would be a mundane counting exercise, those thoughts were dashed last week.

The counting process that began April 15 quickly exploded into a controversy involving political action committees, campaign surrogates, the Federal Election Commission, members of Congress and the counting of previously discarded ballots.

In the March 5 primary election for California’s 16th Congressional District, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo received 38,489 votes, while Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and state Assemblymember Evan Low each received 30,249 votes.

The battle lines being drawn during the recount – a moderate Silicon Valley/real estate candidate against a progressive, labor-supported candidate – are likely to carry forward into the General Election campaign.

Pressure on the man who requested the recounts in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, Jonathan Padilla, to disclose the source or sources of an estimated $110,000 in recount fees accelerated with the filing Friday of a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission that campaign pacesetter Liccardo was the real source of Padilla’s recount bid and was illegally using campaign funds.

Election officials revealed that the daily recount fees are being paid by a new independent expenditure committee, Count the Vote, which lists James Sutton of Rutan & Tucker, LLP as its treasurer. Another attorney from the Southern California law firm, Matthew Alvarez, is listed as treasurer for Neighbors for Results, a separate PAC supporting Liccardo.

Politicians – including Simitian and incumbent Rep. Anna Eshoo, Rep. Ro Khanna and even Liccardo  –  joined Low’s call for “transparency” by Padilla, demanding he reveal the sources of money to finance the recount.

In a statement released over the weekend, Eshoo – who endorsed Simitian – said “The voters deserve to know who and how much, and should not have to wait for a mid-July report.”

“Voters know that our campaign finance structure is strained at the seams by undisclosed donors and dark money and we don’t want it here,” she said in a statement. “Those who are funding the recount initially said they were requesting it on behalf of a candidate they never spoke to, and that candidate has publicly renounced the effort,” she said, without mentioning Low as the “candidate.”

“Clearly, we need to know what’s going on,” pleaded the congresswoman, whose retirement announcement in November ignited the current campaign.

Padilla, former finance director for a Liccardo mayoral campaign, held firm in declining to give financing details, countering that his call for a recount represented his own desire for a transparent recount of the March 5 primary votes for the coveted Silicon Valley congressional seat. Padilla, a Democratic National Foundation delegate, founded a tech startup and is a prominent cryptocurrency player.

The FEC complaint raises the issue of whether campaign funds were used to finance a recount.

The man who filed the SEC complaint – also using Rutan & Tucker, which says its lawyers are “among the  best and most effective attorneys in California” – may have transparency issues of his own.

Max Zarzana, who filed the complaint against Liccardo, is president of an influential San Jose public employee union that has butted heads with Liccardo for years. He has not responded to requests for an interview.

The political action committee of the Santa Clara County Government Attorneys Association most recently gave $150,000 to the unsuccessful 2022 mayoral campaign of Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez.

That money was donated through a PAC sponsored by perhaps San Jose’s most powerful public employee union, the San Jose Police Officers Association.

The lawyers’ PAC, which reported nearly $147,000 in the bank in January, also donated $10,000 in the 2022 mayor campaign to a PAC sponsored by the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council, where Chavez’ director position solidified her organized labor support.

San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan’s victory over Chavez was buoyed by Liccardo’s endorsement and a hefty fundraising effort through his own PAC that gathered Silicon Valley and real estate contributions. And Liccardo’s initial upset win over labor-supported Dave Cortese in 2012 benefited from support from then-incumbent Chuck Reed, who had defeated Chavez in her first mayoral bid in 2006.

Neither of the advocates for a recount – Padilla and his Count the Vote PAC or the Liccardo campaign – have offered any insight on the benefits of a two-person versus three-candidate race for the 16th District, to the public or to the Liccardo candidacy.

"The problem with dark money is that the public has no way of knowing who is really behind the recount and why — whose interests are being served?” Simitian said in a statement to San Jose Inside Monday. “There’s no way to know who is behind this effort or what their motives are.”

While Liccardo’s 8,200-vote margin means he is a shoo-in for the top spot on the ballot, the recount could break the unprecedented tie between Simitian and Low.

Whatever the outcome, it’s likely that some political calculus – rather than a mere quest for “transparency” – is at work.

Low didn’t want a recount: In a three-way race, he might benefit by splitting the two moderates – Liccardo and Simitian.

In a two-person race – Liccardo versus either Simitian or Low – the former mayor might prevail by solidifying his San Jose/Santa Clara County base, home to as many as 80 percent of the district’s voters.

Meanwhile, the campaign continues. All three candidates attended an invitation-only “Progress Seminar” in San Mateo on April 21.

The co-chairs of the event included Rosanne Foust, president and CEO, San Mateo County Economic Development Association; Julie Lind, executive secretary-treasurer, San Mateo Labor Council; Mike Callagy, San Mateo county executive; Jamillah Moore, vice president of student affairs at San Francisco State University. Attendees included federal, state and local elected officials, along with 300 invited individuals from businesses, labor and non-profits across San Mateo County.


Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with the Weeklys group since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.

One Comment

  1. In person voting with Valid ID on paper ballots counted on Election Day.

    Enough if this 3rd world nonsense.

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