Political committees wage shadow campaigns in race for San Jose mayor

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From left: San Jose mayoral candidates Matt Mahan and Cindy Chavez (Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal with Getty and MahanforSanJose.com)
From left: San Jose mayoral candidates Matt Mahan and Cindy Chavez (Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal with Getty and MahanforSanJose.com)

Attack ads have blasted both candidates for San Jose mayor, but neither candidate will accept the blame.

As both politicians square off for the Nov. 8 vote, money interests are waging a shadow campaign on behalf of Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and San Jose Councilman Matt Mahan, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

One piece of campaign mail sent to San Jose voters accuses Chavez of “a history of scandals, corruption and dishonest backroom deals.”

Another declares Mahan has said he believed in “empowering” the National Rifle Association, months after a gun massacre

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Each candidate says the campaign pieces targeting them were unfair, but that they weren’t responsible for the mailers. Instead, the dirt is being slung by fat cats through independent political committees, which aren’t held to spending limits like the candidates.

Those interests include business advocacy groups and real estate developers, labor unions and the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, who play at Levi’s Stadium in neighboring Santa Clara.

Outgoing Mayor Sam Liccardo, who endorses Mahan, started a group backing him. Liccardo’s close friend and political supporter, former Silicon Valley Leadership Group President Carl Guardino, is behind a group backing Chavez.

A Bay Area News Group analysis shows the Chavez and Mahan campaigns together have raised nearly $3 million to date. But collective coffers from their special-interest supporters have injected another $3.8 million into the race – a record.

The funds were raised either through independent expenditure committees formed to spend exclusively on the mayoral race, or general political action committees that serve business or labor organizations.

“It’s already broken spending records,” said Garrick Percival, a San Jose State University political science professor. “Independent expenditures are playing an increasing role in campaign spending and we’re seeing that at all levels of government.”

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision in 2010 effectively unleashed election spending outside official campaigns.

Mahan, a first-term councilman representing the city’s southwest District 10, has raised nearly $1.6 million for his campaign. Outside groups have flung another $772,525 into the race on his behalf, according to the BANG analysis.

They include the California Real Estate Independent Expenditure Committee, representing the California Association of Realtors, which spent $515,525, while Silicon Valley Biz PAC has kicked in $92,000.

They also include Common Good Silicon Valley, the group initially formed by Liccardo and now run by his chief of staff, Jim Reed, which pumped in another $165,000. Its major funders include real estate firm Legacy Partners, where Mahan’s uncle Ed Thrift was an executive.

Chavez, who served as a downtown district councilwoman and vice mayor from 1999 to 2006, has collected $1.4 million for her campaign. But that pales against the $3 million raised by outside groups on her behalf, according to BANG.

They include Citizens for Cindy Chavez Mayor 2022, launched by the 49ers and its ownership, which has raised $763,464.

Better Way San Jose Supporting Chavez for Mayor 2022, formed by the city’s police officer union, has collected $640,157. A political committee of the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council, which Chavez once led, has spent $732,569 on her mayoral bid, while the city’s firefighters union political committee kicked in another $61,431.

Supporters also include San Jose Together Supporting Cindy Chavez for Mayor 2022, formed by Guardino, which has raised $499,500 from developers, executives, unions and others. And Neighbors Together Supporting Cindy Chavez for Mayor 2022 collected $273,000 from unions, a construction executive, a bail bonds company and others.

A Neighbors for a Diverse Community Supporting Cindy Chavez for Mayor 2022 has also raised $75,000 from state Assemblyman Evan Low, an Asian and Pacific Islander Leadership group and a nurses union.

Similar bags of outside money have rained down on Santa Clara municipal elections, where the San Francisco 49ers have put $1.2 million behind a mayoral challenger and other candidates, while developer Related Companies is backing incumbent Mayor Lisa Gillmor.
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— Dana Bartholomew

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