Questions Arise on ‘Dark Money’ Influence in South Bay Politics

A fresh round of campaign finance reports triggered claims in a couple South Bay races about “dark money” donors trying to buy political influence in Silicon Valley.

One of those political volleys came from San Jose Councilman Ash Kalra, who is running against former Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen for the open 27th Assembly District seat. Kalra held a press conference on Monday to announce that “wealthy special interests” have spent millions of dollars to help his opponent get elected.

Much of the support came from billionaire-backed groups that have opposed rent control and boosted private charter schools, according to fundraising records.

“People are asking why I’m doing this now with the ballots coming out next week,” Kalra said outside Leyva Middle School. “Well, it’s because the $3 million mark just got hit. That’s a significant amount of money to influence our community and our city.”

Some of that money has paid for attack ads that tried to make it look like Kalra skipped City Council meetings. The Mercury News debunked that claim leading up to the primary election, in which Nguyen emerged as the frontrunner.

Nguyen brushed off the allegations that she’s bought and paid for as a political ploy, a way for Kalra to duck scrutiny of the committees boosting his own campaign.

“This is a desperate attacking from a losing candidate,” Julie Edwards, Nguyen’s campaign consultant, told San Jose Inside. “Ash Kalra received nearly a half million in independent spending on his behalf in the primary—now he hypocritically attacks Madison. Why? Because she beat him by 15 percent in June and is outpolling him now due to her stronger message and stronger record of working to expand opportunity in San Jose. This isn't about outside spending. It's about a flailing campaign looking for any excuse to shift the blame for their poor performance.”

Meanwhile in the city of Santa Clara, community activists lobbed similar charges against the San Francisco 49ers organization, which plays in and operates the city’s billion-dollar Levi’s Stadium. Stand Up for Santa Clara, a group of community watchdogs, accused the franchise of secretly bankrolling campaigns against Mayor Lisa Gillmor and other council members who have been critical of the team.

Stand Up for Santa Clara spokesman Burt Field held a press conference Tuesday to illustrate flow charts of what he called a “money-laundering scheme” by the 49ers.

According to Field, the team has cloaked its political involvement by filtering money through a nonprofit called Bluepac, which doesn’t have to disclose the identity of its funders. The tax-exempt organization donated $49,265 to an independent committee called Citizens for Economic Council that supports council hopefuls Ahmad Rafah, Mohammed Nadeem, John McLemore and ex-Mayor Patty Mahan.

In his presentation, Field pointed out that Bluepac founder Doug Chan works at the same law firm as Rich Robinson, a political consultant who worked on a pro-Levi’s Stadium campaign in 2010.

Bluepac cash has paid for attack ads against council members Debi Davis and Kathy Watanabe, who joined Gillmor in calling for an audit on how much the city spends on the sports stadium. Some of those ads took shots at Gillmor, whose term isn’t up yet.

Bob Lange, the 49ers’ vice president of communications, provided the following statement from the club: “This organization does not make a practice of commenting on political matters and will not begin doing so now in response to unsubstantiated rumors that support the personal agendas of local politicians.”

Gillmor—who replaced Mayor Jamie Matthews when he abruptly quit after the Super Bowl—called on 49ers CEO Jed York to “come clean” about which candidates he’s backing in the Nov. 8 council election.

“Certainly, if you want to support candidates, be honest about it,” Gillmor told reporters. “Come forward, write your checks the way you normally do. We have limits on contributions in our city. Do it the honest, legal way.”

Source: Stand Up Santa Clara

Source: Stand Up Santa Clara

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


  1. I learned first hand how much money is involved in the city council races while attending a tenant/landlord rent control meeting:

    After the meeting one of the landlords and I began to talk about solutions to the housing shortage. He and I had a discussion about his idea of converting garages into studio living spaces and he had come up with a way to do it for about $10,000 each garage. After about 30 minutes he said he would bring it up to Mayor Liccardo the next morning when he dropped off a $50,000 check to him to for Madison Nguyen’s campaign!

    I just stood there with my mouth hanging open and thought…wow…he really just told me that. My second thought was how pathetic it was that this genuinely good-hearted landlord who had brilliant ideas to increase our housing stock quickly and affordably, was putting his wealth to work by donating money to elections. He chose to meet with Liccardo and hand over a big fat check to help with Madison’s election rather than start a company converting garages into studio apartments.

    David, if you are reading this: Please start the business you and I talked about! It’s needed and it was a great idea and you have the money to get it started!

  2. The ubiquitous four letter word in California politics is “wealthy special interests”. Every ad opposing a proposition decries the fact that it is supported by “wealthy special interests”. The inference is that these “wealthy special interests” are evil rich people or organizations. Consider this: The Sierra Club, The Friends of the Earth, The Audobon Society, the SEIU, the various teachers’ unions, the SBLC, The Howard Jarvis Tax Initiative, the AARP, and the ACLU are all “wealthy special interests”. Virtually every person or group that proposes or supports a proposition in California is a “wealthy special interest”. Decide based on substance, not name calling.

    • It’s about lying. When a moneyed interest, i.e., a ‘special’ interest, lies in order to bring money its way – that is a problem. Real non profit organizations, such as the ACLU, use their money for a stated and public purpose. Their web sites have real contact information and they publish their leadership roster. Fake, political Superpacs, on the other hand, hide their leadership roster, post minimal if any contact info and .. lie lie lie. There’s huge difference between moneyed political so-called no profit special interests, i.e., superpacs, and real non profit organizations.

      • > Real non profit organizations, such as the ACLU, use their money for a stated and public purpose.

        Roger Baldwin, founder of the ACLU:

        “”We are for Socialism, disarmament, and ultimately for abolishing the state itself. We seek the social ownership of property, the abolition of the propertied class, and the sole control of those who produce wealth. Communism is the goal.”

        Roger Baldwin was either a Commie or a commie.

  3. I very much hope Diridon Jr is not tied-up in this. He’s a solid guy who has served Santa Clara well. The rest, particularly Mahan, are garbage politicians who need PAC money to get back on the Council.

  4. You people were all born yesterday, RIGHT?
    Money and power go hand in hand, who wants to investigate the Clinton pay to play TAX FREE foundation or any foundation run by any political group. Ask too many questions or donate to the wrong cause you’re sure to be audited
    or you might be found dead in Ft Marcy Park.

    • The US Attorney for NY is quite properly investigating The Trump Foundation for using $25k of foundation funds to purchase a portrait of The Donald. That same US Attorney is quite improperly failing to investigate The Clinton Foundation for its pay to play tactics, repeatedly accepting money from foreigners to get access to government officials, and donating only 5.6 % of its receipts to charities. Nothing political there, eh?

  5. come on Julie open your eyes… Madison is taking millions from the California Real Estate Committee and California Apartment Assoc…. I thought she was on the side of the people well I guess not. Yu know the Apt. Association wants to get rid of rent control and not have any affordable housing… Thanks Madison once again for turning your back on us… NO to Madison

    • GAO,

      I’m not voting for Madison N, and I agree about the one-sided coverage. But I have a question for you:

      What’s the difference in principle between rent control and food control?

      Both are necessities. If the gov’t can control one, why not the other?

      And of course, there’s the obvious problem: In the medium/long term, rent control has the opposite effect from what was intended: rents end up being higher than they would be without rent control.

      But it sure sounds good to renters, right?

      • > And of course, there’s the obvious problem: In the medium/long term, rent control has the opposite effect from what was intended: rents end up being higher than they would be without rent control.

        Excellent point, Smokey!

        Foragers expect to find goodies in the forest. What they think they hear politicians saying is that the goodies they find will be cheaper.

        The reality is that the goodies they are looking for are put there by capitalists, and “rent control” means that the capitalists will put fewer goodies in the forest for them to find. For sure, the capitalists won’t put any of the cheap ones in the forest.

        • I’m sure the same logic will work with college education and student loans as well. Just think of what this country will look like if you could only get government backed student loans for doctors,engineers and scientist insted of lawyers, politicians and sociologists.

  6. Don’t forget way back when Madison had a recall, over the “Little Saigon” fiasco. Reed admitted to getting support from housing developers to fight the recall. Now what does the naming of a neighborhood have to do with housing development? Go figure.

  7. Anyone associated with the Niners in the past including pushing up the Measure J vote to an off cycle election, boosters for subsequent council members or strategic school board patsies will Never get my vote. They’ve killed the single-family home neighborhoods, in favor of obscenely expensive, dense housing from the McMansions to the ginormous “Let’s see how many units can we possibly stack & cram into an already congested area.”

    Traffic congestion is up, services including WATER will become ridiculously expensive once the thousands move in to work/live. The smaller family-run businesses are being run out of business for commercial chains, box-stores, or pricey boutiques that only those in “affordable housing” starting in the $600s or mid $900s can afford to shop if they have the patience to drive there. Every spare parcel of open space, orchards will soon have 5-story ridiculously dense units project with 1.3 parking spaces assigned. Try getting around anywhere in decent time — even those entitled cyclists who ride using both vehicle and pedestrian laws are taking their lives into their hands.

    The schools which were outstanding when we first bought our home over twenty years ago are barely making mediocre marks. The educational needs will not meet the demands of the children. Affordable housing is not meeting needs of families. Construction of high-priced units continue to pay off developers who also bought (& bought off) politicians and the housing need to be expensive to cover the taxes to pay for the stadium that taxpayers “weren’t going to be responsible for” but a careful look at utility bill line items proved a different story.

    If a stadium it was such a great deal, Every City In the Country would be building one. Oh wait! Check out Stockton, CA broke ground in 2004, filed bankruptcy in 2012. Then there’s Detroit, St. Louis, New Jersey, Seattle, Indianapolis ,Houston, Kansas City, Mo., Memphis and Pittsburgh… I’m sure there are more, but those are the ones off the top of my head.

    I know Santa Clara will never be the charming city it once was, but hopefully if everyone votes for the interest of their own city rather than the outside interest of an organization where most of its owners/board/players don’t even LIVE, we can slow down the virulent after-effects that normally plague the neighborhood once a stadium arrives or worse yet, after it dies.. I’d rather leave my $0.02 in this post than give it to a York.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *