The California Fair Political Practices Commission has opened an investigation into Assemblymember Kansen Chu (D-San Jose), whose district includes Milpitas, for allegedly violating campaign finance laws during his current campaign for Santa Clara County supervisor, according to a letter obtained by the Beat.
The investigation is based on a complaint filed with the FPPC in July by former Assemblymember and former Evergreen Valley College political science professor Paul Fong, former Milpitas Vice Mayor Marsha Grilli, Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility President Pat Waite, and resident Mike Serrone. The complaint accuses Chu of using his assembly campaign account to help fund his campaign for supervisor.
Supervisor candidates are prohibited by state law from accepting individual donations of more than $1,000, while the cap for Assembly candidates is $4,700.
Fong, Grilli, Waite, and Serrone allege Chu accepted 18 donations between May, 2019, and February, 2020, to his Assembly campaign that were greater than the $1,000 allowed for his supervisor campaign.
Chu declined to run for another Assembly term in May, 2019, instead choosing to run for the supervisor District 3 seat currently held by soon-to-be termed-out Dave Cortese, which covers Milpitas.
The shift in focus should have meant that Chu would not accept any donations to his assembly campaign account. But the complaint alleges such is not the case.
“Assemblymember Chu opened his campaign committee for Supervisor on May of 2019 and in doing so, Mr. Chu has found a way to obfuscate the law,” read the complaint.
The July complaint also alleges several more irregularities, including a mailer sent by “Kansen Chu for Assembly 2020” to residents with Chu’s supervisor campaign website address printed on it.
The mailer was sent to constituents in Santa Clara County District 3 from “Kansen Chu for Assembly 2020” in April, touting Chu’s work in attempting to secure higher unemployment benefits for workers and financial assistance for businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chu, in an interview with The Beat, claimed his supervisor website was on the mailer due to an error made during the flyer’s creation, one the assemblymember didn’t catch before it went to print.
“A mistake unintentionally made by [a] graphic designer,” he said.
He also stated the flyers were sent in an effort to inform Spanish-speaking residents about resources available related to COVID-19.
“When the pandemic broke out, we wanted to provide public services,” said Chu. “It [the mailer] had nothing to do with any campaign.”
Campaign finance records show that Chu raised over $176,000 for his campaign, and spent approximately $33,000 in printing fees for the coronavirus-related flyers that allegedly went to voters inside Santa Clara County District 3 but outside of his assembly district.
“This distinction allowed him to skirt fundraising restrictions and send misleading mailers to people outside of his assembly district,” said the complaint.
The April mailer echoes a similar alleged bungle made by Chu’s campaign last year. In late 2019, a holiday mailer was sent by “Kansen Chu for Assembly 2020” to residents in Chu’s assembly district, over seven months after he announced he would not seek another term in the Legislature. Some of the mailers were allegedly sent to constituents outside Chu’s assembly district but within the supervisor district Chu is currently running for.
Chu defended the holiday card, claiming the campaign committee that paid for the mailers was opened in 2018 for “non-state business,” such as sending holiday cards—a practice that is exempt under FPPC rules.
The complaint also alleges incomplete financial recordkeeping by Chu’s treasurer and son-in-law, Steve Blomquist. The document listed off poorly-explained—or unexplained—“reimbursements” to the tune of thousands of dollars for travel and some unnamed expenses attributed to Chu’s wife Daisy:
“Chu and his wife, Daisy, repeatedly underreported travel, food and miscellaneous expenses for their own gain—with five instances of incorrectly reporting travel expenses in 2018 and 22 instances of underreported reimbursements between Chu’s campaigns and his wife Daisy, totaling $6,979.13,” read the complaint.
“I think the FPPC made the right choice because there are substantial and real concerns going on here,” Fong said in a prepared statement sent to media including The Beat. “Accountability and transparency are precious tools to keep our elected leaders honest and in service to the community, not themselves. I am certain that Mr. Chu will attempt to make this a political thing, but that is merely his dismissive redirection at his own mistakes because he thinks he is above the rules. I applaud the FPPC for their work, and look forward to the results of this investigation.”
Chu said he “definitely will cooperate with the FPPC” throughout the investigation. He won the supervisorial primary in March and will face off against former Sunnyvale Mayor Otto Lee come November.
UPDATE: Grilli released a statement on the investigation Wednesday morning to the Beat: “The complaint has been thoroughly researched and I’m pleased the FPPC is moving forward with its investigation. This is the fourth time Kansen Chu has been investigated by the FPPC and as a community member, his actions are concerning to me. No one is exempt from the rules and laws that govern our elected officials. We need to hold our public officials accountable here at the local level and at our federal level. I trust that the FPPC will do a thorough, timely investigation and hold our public officials accountable for any violations.”
CORRECTION: This article identified Paul Fong as a current Evergreen Valley College professor. Fong retired from his position recently. The article has been updated to reflect this.
This story has been updated.