A wave of independent expenditures is pouring into the race for the Mountain View City Council, with three groups recently dropping large sums of money to support or oppose candidates in the race.
The influx of campaign money has revived concerns that unchecked spending from outside groups amounts to unwanted meddling in the council race, diminishing the value of the city's voluntary campaign spending limits.
Last week, the National Association of Realtors disclosed it had spent just over $29,000 to support Councilwoman Lisa Matichak's reelection campaign, using the group's nonprofit political arm to spend big on mailers, polling and online ads. And on Tuesday, The Silicon Valley Organization's political action committee spent $29,200 to oppose candidate and former state Assemblywoman Sally Lieber.
The Mountain View Professional Firefighters Political Action Committee has also sent out multiple mailers in support of a slate of candidates -- Matichak, Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga and candidate Jose Gutierrez. The group is a local organization funded by fire department personnel, but has yet to disclose how much money has been spent on the effort.
Past campaign records show the National Association of Realtors does not have a history of involvement in the City Council race, but has dropped large sums of money to help candidates elsewhere in the Bay Area. Notably, the organization has spent $56,862 to support Sunnyvale Mayor Larry Klein's reelection bid this year, again through mailers, polling and online ads. In 2018, the group spent $33,789 on San Jose Councilwoman Pam Foley's campaign.
The California Real Estate Political Action Committee -- funded through the California Association of Realtors -- also contributed $2,000 to both Matichak and Abe-Koga's reelection campaigns. The donations are distinct from independent expenditures, but nevertheless reveal a pattern of influence from realtor groups in the race.
Representatives from the National Association of Realtors did not respond to requests for comment.
In an email, Matichak said she was not aware of any outside spending from the association in support of her campaign. Generally speaking, she said she is okay with groups making independent expenditures so long as they are positive and support a candidate or a measure, and only if the organization behind the spending is easily identifiable. This was a particular problem in the 2014 council race, when a shadowy group calling itself the Neighborhood Empowerment Coalition spent in excess of $85,000 in support of three candidates. It was later revealed that much of the group's spending was fueled by money from the California Apartment Association (CAA) in support of former council members Ken Rosenberg and Pat Showalter as well as councilwoman Ellen Kamei, who ran in 2014 and was later elected in 2018.
The CAA appears to have an influence on the latest round of outside spending as well. Campaign filings from the Silicon Valley Organization, a coalition of Bay Area business leaders and chambers of commerce, show that the group not only spent money in opposition to Lieber, but also collected more than $230,000 from heavy hitters in the local real estate and building industries over the last two months. The group received $50,000 from the California Apartment Association's political action committee, $50,000 from the California Association of Realtors and $35,000 from San Jose Cityview, an affiliate of the San Francisco-based developer Jay Paul Co.
Lieber said it's both expected and regrettable to see opposition spending against her campaign, and that it's a clear signal that outsiders -- namely giant corporate landlords -- are using their influence to try to determine who will represent Mountain View's citizens. She said she wears it as a badge of honor, and vowed to limit this kind of outside spending if she is elected to office next month.
"As a person who has lived here in the community for 27 years, I'm offended and I'm disgusted by their intrusion in our community," Lieber said. "There is not a single thing that the Silicon Valley Organization has done for our community that I can identify. I don't see their support for our schools, I don't see their support for our community organizations."
Big spending from outside groups is a relatively new problem for Mountain View, Lieber said, and is inherently negative even if it is in support of a candidate. All it serves to do is tamper in a local election and try to influence who lands a seat on the City Council. She said it's unclear why realtors are so interested in the city, but that it could have something to do with rent control and the possible extension of renter protections to mobile home parks.
City officials said they have not received any campaign filings from the Mountain View Professional Firefighters Political Action Committee for the upcoming election. The latest campaign finance filings for the group date back to 2018, when the group contributed money to Gov. Gavin Newsom's election campaign.