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Campaign Ethics - Do What I Say, Not What I Do

Are Sunnyvale elections ethical? Do Sunnyvale candidates campaign ethically?

Wait... before you answer those simple questions you might want to know that your City Council thinks that you need some remedial education on this topic --- at your expense and regardless of whether or not you want it.

Recently, the Sunnyvale City Council earmarked $6,000 of hard-earned taxpayer money for a campaign ethics brochure, supposedly aimed at protecting the voting public from all those unscrupulous Sunnyvale candidates in the upcoming November election. The brochure, is basically a carbon copy of one developed for the 2007 election after so many people complained of the false and misleading flyers being promulgated by the Sunnyvale police and firefighters union and their candidates.

As described in the three color glossy flyer, the purpose of the guide is "to give voters the key questions and tools that they need in order to evaluate campaign ethics fairly." Included are such basic tips for voters as how to recognize potentially evasive candidates, identifying red flag behaviors, and how to make sense of the overwhelming number of campaign mailers.

Not only is there advice to voters, but also to candidates as well. The brochure includes a seven-section code of conduct for candidates that covers such obvious campaign no-no's as appealing to negative prejudice, coercing campaign donations, making false promises to campaign donors, and hindering or preventing any eligible person from voting.

But wait, it appears that several enterprising candidates noticed that missing from the code of conduct is the most obvious campaign recommendation, "Don't Break the Law."

So it seems Mr. Spitaleri was recently found by the California Fair Political Practices Commision (the State campaign watchdog agency) of 60 separate campaign reporting violations from the 2005 election, each of which is technically a misdemeanor under California Law. The violations, as outlined in a warning letter to Mr. Spitaleri, included not properly reporting donors and improperly accepting a cash donation greater than $100. But this isn't the first time Mr. Spitaleri got in hot water over campaign reporting violations. The Palo Alto Firefighters Union, of which Mr. Spitaleri is President, was also found to have failed to report campaign finances as required by law for two years between 2003 and 2005. Despite trying to reach Mr. Spitaleri by phone and letters numerous times, Mr. Spitaleri never once responded. It was only when the County Clerk got serious and threatened to notify the FPPC did Mr. Spitaleri and his firefighting union comrades finally file a report.

Not wanting to be outdone, Dean Chu, who is now serving as Councilmember Lee's stand-in while Mr. Lee is in Iraq, was found to have violated State law by improperly accepting an approximately $4,500 travel gift from Viagold Capital Limited, a virtually unknown holding company incorporated in Bermuda. (See the report here.) When investigated by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, Mr. Chu gave a rather creative answer as to why it was okay to accept the money. He said he thought the the visit was being sponsored by the Communist Chinese Government!

In any event, we hope that the current candidates, including Mr. Spitaleri along with Mr. Chu, recognize that even if the campaign ethics guide doesn't come outright and say that breaking the law is not an acceptable campaign practice, that doesn't mean its okay to do it.

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Updated January 23, 2020 10:09 PM