Independent Expenditures Spend — San Jose City Council Race 2020 — Finalized

UPDATED 11/4/20: The spending is finally over. It’s been an interesting election season. Thanks for following along!

This post is to track the Independent Expenditure Spend in San Jose, California’s City Council Race Spend. The goal of this article is for transparency into in San Jose’s local politics and to understand where all the campaign money is coming from.

Regardless of your stance on these four candidates, I believe it’s important for all citizens and voters in the city of San Jose to not only see political donations to each of the candidates, but also from so-called Independent Expenditures. You can read more about IE’s here!

All of the following information is public. Find the forms (496’s) filed here:

Full disclosure: I am the current serving as the Fundraising Director for Jake Tonkel’s 2020 City Council campaign.

A look at the numbers

It’s important to note here that this is just for these two city council races. These organizations have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on other races through the primary and continue to spend on races that affect San Jose and Southbay like Otto Lee vs. Kansen Chu (Santa Clara County supervisor race), Ann Ravel vs. Dave Cortese (State Senate), Sally Lieber vs. Josh Becker and more.

Breakdown by PAC

District 6: Davis vs. Tonkel

Total Spend 2020 General Election: $904,608.04

District 6 Breakdown

Jake Tonkel is an expensive candidate for the PACs. IE’s Opposing Tonkel havespent over 520k. A nearly half of that funding that message is funded by the San Jose Police Officer Association. Tonkel has been a strong supporter of the recent Black Lives Matter protests and call for increase police transparency, however the SJPOA’s mailers haven’t targeted this stance, instead concentrating on his progressive tax policies and support for California Prop 15.

Jake Tonkel Support/Oppose Breakdown

The second largest spend is for Support Dev Davis with over 220k. ~60% of that spend is from a PAC named Innovation for Everyone. A closer look into Innovation for Everyone’s 460 filing shows that the PAC has major donors including Eric Yuan (CEO of Zoom contributed 25k), Jed York (49ers President contributed 25k), Chris Larsen (Ripple CEO contributed 50k) and some other major real estate interests. The I4E group seems to have taken a support only stance in their spending and have only sent out positive mailers for the incumbent Davis.

Another big spender in this race is the South Bay South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council Committee, spending over 150k split between supporting Tonkel and attacking Davis. The South Bay AFL-CIO has a lot to gain in a pro-labor city

Dev Davis Support/Oppose Breakdown

council majority as they boast over 100,000 union members spread across 101 unions in Silicon Valley. The subject of their mailers against Davis are a bit more general but almost always critical of her vote to extend the High-Rise Incentive program, a vote that was defended recently by Mayor Liccardo titled “Subsidies and Fee Reductions: The Myth of the $67 million Giveaway.”

The other big spender of note is the Silicon Valley Organization. The SVO is the Silicon Valley’s version of a Chamber of Commerce and currently represents about 1,200 business members with a collective 300,000 employees in Silicon Valley. They have spent over 240k on this race, with a majority of that spend attacking Tonkel. The SVO has fallen under scrutiny and protests over yet another racist attack ad as they have been accused of in the past and has pledged to suspend all PAC actions.

District 4: Diep vs. Cohen

Total Spend 2020 General Election: $1,033,723.90

District 4 PAC Breakdown

Believe it or not, even with all the money poured into the District 6 race, District 4 is even more costly. Over 1 million dollars spent in opposition or support of these two candidates. Pretty much the identical players in the previous race are here as well. Diep’s District 4 seat seems to be the most in jeopardy as his opponent won primary by 3 points and Diep originally won this seat in 2016 by a razor thin margin of 12 votes.

Lan Diep Support/Oppose Breakdown

The Silicon Valley Organization is the largest contributor to the what may be the expensive city council race in San Jose history. They have spent over 340k in this race with a majority of the spend on Cohen opposition mailers. Here, SVO is mostly sending mailers attacking Cohen on his tax policies.

The second largest spender in this race is, once again, the South Bay South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council Committee. They have spent over 190k on opposition mailers, phone banks and digital ads against Diep and over 80k in the same mediums supporting Cohen. Their attacks against Diep is almost always focused on his purportedly cozy relationship with developers.

David Cohen Support/Oppose Breakdown

Another big spender is the aforementioned Innovation for Everyone with over 248k supporting the incumbent Diep. Remember the real estate interests I mentioned in I4E’s contributor’s list? The big names include Essex Property Trust (a real estate company that owns interests in 250 apartment complexes, aggregating 60,570 apartment units), Shea Homes (a company that currently owns and operates more than 9,000 apartment units and 4.8 million square feet of office, industrial and retail space in California, Colorado, and Washington) and other construction companies that are currently involved in building the high rises you see in downtown San Jose.

Some of the other IE’s not mentioned above:

California Apartment Association Housing
Primarily concerned with rent control for obvious reasons.
If you live in an apartment building, more than likely you have lived in one of their major funder’s properties including:

The Irvine Company
Irvine Company’s holdings consist of 125 million square feet and include more than 560 office buildings, 125 apartment communities with 65,000 units, 40 retail centers, one coastal resort, two hotels, three golf courses, and five marinas.

Woodmont Real Estate
Communities located on the Peninsula, in the South Bay, North Bay, East Bay, Santa Cruz, and Sacramento.

Again, similar to some of the other attack mailers, their mailers attacking Tonkel are focused on his stance on police reform as opposed to issues that deal directly with apartments such as Tonkel’s pro-Prop 21 (Local Rent Control Initiative) stance.

California Real Estate Independent Expenditure Committee and
National Association of Realtor’s Fund
Primarily concerned with lowering property tax and increasing fluidity for real estate transfers, once again for obvious reasons.


If you are interested in some of the mailers that have gone out. I highly recommend visiting where the public can upload mailers they have received. (I’m not affiliated with them at all.)

If you want to double check my numbers and contributors please go to San Jose’s campaign documents portal:
Independent Expenditures use form 496.
Candidate forms use form 460.

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