Sam Liccardo held a press conference Wednesday calling on the South Bay Labor Council and San Jose/Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce to return political contributions received from the city's two card clubs. The San Jose councilman and mayoral candidate was joined by former Mayor Tom McEnery and Councilmember David Pandori.
Casino M8trix and Bay 101 are prohibited from directly giving money to political candidates, but they can contribute to entities that support initiatives and candidates. In the current election cycle, both casinos gave $25,000 apiece to the South Bay Labor Council's Committee on Political Education (COPE). M8trix also gave $2,000 to the chamber's political action committee (PAC).
"These efforts violate the spirit of the law and need to stop now,” Liccardo said in a statement.
Last week, M8trix was accused of playing a $119 million shell game to avoid paying taxes to the city and contributing money to a local nonprofit's anti-gambling outreach efforts. The allegations appear to be a motivating factor for today's press conference.
“We’ve long known that card clubs try to influence elections and government decision-making," Liccardo said. "That’s why the city banned direct contributions from card clubs to candidates. Now we know that one of the biggest clubs is actively under investigation and that both Casino M8trix and Bay 101 have tried to get around the city’s ban by donating indirectly through political groups. These efforts violate the spirit of the law and need to stop now.”
Liccardo has been bullish since accusations against M8trix went public, but he may have jumped the gun in suggesting the casino should be shut down within 30 days if it doesn't pay restitution for money allegedly withheld. With the accusations still being just that—although they don't look good—not everyone is on board. Councilman Pete Constant called Liccardo's proposal "wholly inappropriate" and a stunt for the mayor's race.
Digging into the details there's a few things worth noting here:
1. Liccardo is running for mayor and the SBLC's committee supports county Supervisor Dave Cortese's bid for the seat. This isn't a secret, but it obviously plays into Liccardo's decision to demand $50,000 be returned. The money given to the chamber is paltry by comparison. But...
2. The chamber could be on the hook for far more than just $2,000 if the demand to recall all casino campaign contributions goes back further than just a few months. A source with knowledge of M8trix's political activity told San Jose Inside that the card club has given $135,500 to the chamber since 2009. The attorney general's allegations against the casino cover the time period of 2009-2013.
Should those contributions be out of bounds as well?
While the chamber hasn't endorsed anyone, it supports ABC (anyone but Cortese) candidates. Assuming Cortese makes it through the primary, the chamber would absolutely endorse Liccardo if he advanced to the runoff. Liccardo's demand that the chamber PAC return $2,000 could rub some folks the wrong way, but calling on more than $135,000 to be returned would certainly rub them raw. (Clarification: Campaign disclosure forms show that $11,000 was given to the PAC from 2010 through 2013. According to a source, $124,500 went directly to the chamber during this same time period. One could argue this money still has political ramifications.)
More than likely, though, neither the chamber nor the SBLC will return the money, as they are under no obligation and such a precedent could be a slippery slope.
The following is a recent breakdown of the more recent political contributions made by San Jose card clubs, according to the Liccardo campaign:
- On March 7, 2014, Casino M8trix donated $1000 to the San José Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee. Source: CA Form 460, Recipient Committee Campaign Statement, filed 3/20/14
- On April 4, 2014, Casino M8trix donated $25,000 to the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council Committee on Political Education (COPE). Source: CA Form 496, Independent Expenditure Report, filed 4/10/14
- On April 11, 2014, Bay 101 donated $25,000 to the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council Committee on Political Education (COPE). Source: CA Form 496, Independent Expenditure Report, filed 4/11/14
- On May 15, 2014, Casino M8trix donated $1000 to the San José Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee. Source: CA Form 496, Independent Expenditure Report, filed 5/16/14