With less than two months to Election Day, the San Francisco 49ers have already spent a staggering $1.2 million on Santa Clara City Council races, while real estate interests mount to one of the team’s biggest critics — Mayor Lisa Gillmor — in her Cause to defend – election offer.
In 2022, the 49ers proved once again that they are the big donors to Santa Clara City politics by forming so-called independent spending committees to support Councilman Anthony Becker’s mayoral campaign and the re-elections of Councilors Karen Hardy and Raj Chahal . Two years ago, team owner Jed York poured $3 million into a political action committee to help elect Vice Mayor Suds Jain and councilors Kevin Park and Becker.
On the surface, at least, the new 49ers-backed council has been far more supportive of the team’s interests than its predecessors. And the team’s money continues to be transformative. Terry Christensen, a professor of political science at San Jose State University, said the 49ers’ investment in city council campaigns this year is “truly exceptional, especially for such a small city where campaign spending has traditionally been very low.”
According to campaign records, the team has so far spent $383,907 on ads supporting Becker for mayor. The 49ers also spent $218,344 and $227,100 supporting Hardy and Chahal, respectively.
Another $385,788 was spent to face Gillmor, Christian Pellecchia, former chairman of the Silicon Valley Central Chamber of Commerce, who is running against Hardy, and longtime resident Larry McColloch, who is running against Chahal.
In a statement, 49ers spokesman Rahul Chandhok said the team is “proud to support this diverse group of candidates committed to addressing the $27 million deficit created by Mayor Lisa Gillmor and her political machine.” funded by billionaire developers for decades. at the expense of public school teachers, affordable housing and voting rights.”
But Becker told this news organization it was “disappointing” that the race had been so focused on independent spending, distinct from campaign donations, because candidates had no control over the money. He stressed that he “didn’t take a penny” from the team, nor did he ask them for anything.
“The only support I really, really want is from the Santa Clarans,” he said. “My hope is that there are no political issues from any entity, including developers and the 49ers. But then again, as you see what’s happening, you know I have no control over it.”
Becker, Hardy, Chahal, Jain and Park have been targeted by some residents for their frequent meetings with the team, as well as their votes to impeach former city manager Deanna Santana and former city attorney Brian Doyle — both opponents of the NFL team.
The money flowing from the 49ers to Santa Clara politics comes just weeks after the city settled its long-standing legal dispute with the team over Levi’s Stadium management.
While the 49ers are on track to be the biggest spenders this election cycle, Gilmor’s real estate allies have begun organizing on their behalf. The mayor, who works full-time as a real estate agent, is something of a Silicon Valley real estate mogul who owns large lots throughout the region.
On September 12, development companies Related California Residential and Related Santa Clara — subsidiaries of The Related Companies — filed filings to form a committee in support of Gillmor. Since then, they’ve poured $100,000 into the war chest.
The Related Cos. is owned by Stephen Ross, the majority owner of the Miami Dolphins football team and a major political donor. In 2021, Ross spent more than $1 million on New York City Council races — mostly against progressive candidates. And in 2019, the billionaire came under fire for hosting a fundraiser that helped former President Donald Trump raise millions for his failed re-election campaign.
Related California has become a major player in real estate in Santa Clara and is expected to begin in the near future with a 9.2 square foot project in the shadow of Levi’s Stadium that will include 5.7 million square feet of office space, 1,680 apartments and 700 hotels will retail rooms, 500,000 square feet and more. The mayor has strongly supported the development.
Evette Davis, a spokeswoman for the Related-backed committee, confirmed that they formed an independent spending committee to support the mayor’s reelection bid, but declined to comment further. Gilmor could not be reached for comment.
In an email, Chahal said he wanted to “state publicly” that he didn’t want an independent spending committee from the 49ers or any other interest group that supports him.
“I pride myself on being a very independent decision-maker, and any IE created on my behalf does not affect my decision-making process,” he said. “In the past I have returned checks from advocacy groups and even during this election cycle I have declined financial contributions from advocacy groups to my campaign.”
Chahal also criticized Related Cos. for setting up his committee in support of Gillmor, and stated that in his opinion no large corporation should spend dollars on local elections.