Despite Finger Pointing, Campaign Finance Forms Show No Monetary Ties to 49ers
By David Alexander

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This political season’s candidates for Santa Clara’s public offices -- the city clerk, police chief and four City Council seats -- have discussed at great length, although in nonspecific terms, the role of campaign contributions. Nearly all the candidates have lobbed vague backhanded ad hominem attacks by declaring that they are not accepting money from “special interests.”

The phrase “special interest” is rather broad. Many of the candidates have used the term publicly to refer to development companies and, more specifically, the San Francisco 49ers. However, “special interest” does not just refer to businesses. It can refer to consumer advocacy groups, civil rights groups, labor unions, or even church groups.

Still, many of the candidates still have gotten up on their soapboxes and declared for all to hear that they would never take such money, claiming the Council is engaged in “sweetheart deals.” Anthony Becker, a candidate for council seat six, even said the Council has fallen victim to “puppeteering.”    

The implication is clear: anyone who takes money from the 49ers or a development company will serve those companies economic interests.

To illustrate this finger-pointing, during a  Sept. 21 candidate forum at city hall, 1500 Warburton Ave., Tino Silva all but directly accused his Seat Four opponent Patricia Mahan of taking money from the 49ers simply because, when asked about her relationship with the team, she didn’t note how she did not take money from the team.

Well, guess what. She didn’t. And neither did anyone else.

Candidates had to file the campaign contribution forms Sept. 29, which disclose the names and occupations of campaign contributors, along with how much money they donated to each candidate's campaign. According to those forms, none of the candidates accepted any money from the 49ers or development companies.

In fact, the forms show that retirees are the largest group donating to political candidates across the spectrum. Of the 766 named donors to Santa Clara political candidates, 215, or 28 percent, list their profession as “retired.”

Perhaps more revealing is seeing the candidates and current City Council members donating to other candidates, ensuring their political allies get a seat on the dais.

Here is a breakdown of what the forms show by seat:

Police chief

Santa Clara Police Chief Mike Sellers raised $31,098. He spent $9,481 of that money at the time of the filing.

Notable among Sellers contributors are former City Councilman Jerry Marsalli, who was the first to donate to Sellers’ campaign, giving $500; Councilman Pat Kolstad also gave $400.

Candidates running for the Council also gave to Sellers. John McLemore, a candidate for Seat Three, gave $300, and Seat Six candidates Mario Bouza and Suds Jain each gave $150. Seat Four candidate Mahan gave $200

Miles Barber, publisher of the Santa Clara Weekly, gave Sellers $500.

Among Sellers 100 campaign financial supporters are nine people working in law enforcement, three working in education, three working for fire departments and two working in the courts.

Sellers’ opponent Patrick Nikolai raised $31,234. He has spent $10,450.87. Of his 78 contributors, 31 list their profession as “police officer.” Nikolai also received support from Mayor Gillmor, who gave him $550.

A good chunk of Nikolai’s campaign funding came from unions such as the Santa Clara Police Officers Association, several chapters of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Santa Clara County and even the Public Safety Non-Sworn Employees Association.

Campaign contributions from these sources totaled $5,720.

City Clerk

City clerk candidates Rod Diridon and Deborah Bress have the largest disparity in their campaign contributions. While Bress accepted $582 in campaign contributions, Diridon raised $41,309.55, or nearly 71 times the money Bress raised.

Bress’ form only lists three contributors to her campaign, two of which are retired.

Meanwhile, Diridon’s 143 financial backers are the most of any candidate in this year’s local election. Diridon’s contributors span the state, including contributors from across state -- Folsom, Sacramento, San Rafael, Santa Rosa, Santa Ana, Diablo, Pacifica, San Jose and almost everywhere between.

Diridon also has the backing of some pretty influential people. Not only did Marsalli and Kolstad support Diridon with a $150 and $400 donation respectively, but Santa Clara County Supervisor Cynthia Chavez also gave $550.

But Diridon’s contributors don’t stop there. He secured $550 donations from the police and fire unions. Didiron has supporters in the court system too, netting a $550 donation from Jeffrey Gozza, director of the California State Senate and another $100 from federal bankruptcy judge Arthur Weissbrodt.

Chief of staff for Rep. Tom Delaney (D-Md.) Justin Schall also contributed $550 to Diridon’s campaign.

Mahan gave Diridon $250, but a note in the documents shows that Diridon refunded the money. The documents did not detail the reasoning for the refund.

Seat Three

Incumbent Debi Davis accepted $13,303 in contributions.

Notable among her contributors are Mayor Gillmor who, along with her brother David Gillmor and her father former mayor Gary Gillmor, gave Davis $500. Fellow Council member Kathy Watanabe gave Davis $120 while Silva contributed $100. Teresa O’Neil, who is also seeking re-election, also gave Davis $100.

Another $500 donation came from Richard Rossi, who is listed as the owner of Master Precision Machining Corp. The donation is listed as an “individual donation.”

Of the money raised, the form shows that Davis spent $5,641.26, mostly on door hangers and yard signs with small amount going toward web hosting fees and fundraisers.

Meanwhile, her opponent John McLemore raised $8,121 and spent $6,583, again mostly on mailers and lawn signs. Among his supporters is Council member Pat Kolstad, who gave McLemore $300 to run against his dais-mate. Ahmad Rafah, who is running against Seat Seven incumbent Teresa O’Neil, gave McLemore $550.

Also listed as “individual donations” by McLemore are those from BBPOS Inc. President Robert E. Cook, who gave $100, and $550 from Lawrence Farger, president of Realcom Real Estate.

Seat Four

Of all the political candidates, the documents show that Markus Bracamonte raised the least money, netting $2,020 and spending $1,778, However, Bracamonte is listed as contributing $550, and three of his 11 donors share his last name. David Coates, a pest technician for Clark Pest Control, also contributed $522.

Raj Chahal raised $6,058, and he spent $5,415.41.

Yuki Ikezi gave both Chahal and Mahan $100.

Mahan raised $13,616 and spent $11,489. Marsalli, whose seat Mahan hopes to occupy, and Councilman Pat Kolstad gave Mahan $550 each while seat six hopeful Mohammed Nadeem contributed $250. Tony Avelar, owner of Santa Clara Realty, also gave Mahan $200.

Another significant contribution came from the director of Rainbow Montessori School, Spyroula Rodenborn, who gave $500 with Rainbow Montessori Inc, listed as giving another $250.

Silva raised $6,025 and spent $10,200. Silva also enjoys the support of Mayor Gillmor, who also gave him $500.

MAK Associates, a playground construction company, also gave Silva $500. Silva is proponent of preserving parks as well as updating the city’s swim center, playgrounds and adding amenities such as a theatre.

Seat Six

Seat Six candidates didn’t have many surprises with their campaign contributions.

Kathy Watanabe’s campaign contributions totaled $6,755.  Watanabe remained true to her statement that she would not take any contribution over $100. All 60 of her listed contributors gave $100 with the remaining $750 she raised being categorized under the “unitemized” portion of the form, meaning each contribution was less than $100.

Mayor Gillmor, Kolstad, Nikolai and Silva were among her supporters.

Mohammed Nadeem accepted no campaign contributions.

Suds Jain accepted $7,035 from donors, including a $100 contribution from Devang Shah, the CEO of InfiniPower Hospitality Group, the Saratoga development company looking to build a 261-room hotel near Levi’s Stadium in San Jose.

Meanwhile, Bouza raised $2,800 in donations from seven donors, three of whom share his last name.

Becker raised $2,155, $700 of which lists him as the donor.

Seat Seven

Incumbent Teresa O’Neill raised $11,473, Ahmad Rafah more than doubled her total, raising $26,000 while Kevin Park raised $650.

Among O’Neill’s supporters are Santa Clara County Supervisor Kenneth Yeager and Ralph Sivilla-Jones, an attorney with the California Dept. of Justice, both of whom gave O’Neill $100. Nearly half of O’Neill’s supporters listed their occupation as “retired.”

Only two of Park’s contributors gave $100; the rest gave less than $100 an were not enumerated, instead being filed on the “unitemized” section of the form.

Rafah’s time working for Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) shows in his campaign finance form. Not only did Honda donate $550 to Rafah’s campaign, but so did his district director Lenine Umali. Honda’s communications director, Vedant Patel, also gave Rafah $250. Honda’s director of constituent services, Cathryn Hyde, gave $100. Honda’s former district director Edwin Tan  and his scheduler, Charlene Loomis, each gave $200. In total, Rafah received $1,850 from connections directly related to Honda’s office.

Rafah also gained support from McLemore, who gave $550, Kolstad, and council member Dominic Caserta, who both gave $100.