Santa Clara County Board of Education trustee Joseph Di Salvo illegally used county resources to aid his re-election bid, according to records obtained by this news outlet.
In nearly half a dozen emails sent from his official Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) email account in July, Di Salvo solicited campaign donations and re-directed potential supporters to his campaign website.
The 12-year Area 4 trustee, faces County Office of Women’s Policy advisor Ketzal Gomez and political newcomer Lucia Garcia in the Nov. 3 election.
“Since the beginning of June, I have raised from supporters, family and friends approximately $15,000 toward a goal of $40,000-$50,000 from now until the election this November 3, 2020,” Di Salvo wrote in a July 20 email. “Please go to trusteedisalvo.com and check out my website along with testimonials from my endorsers. If you believe in me and my work I ask for you to contribute what you can afford to the effort to continue my voice on the County Board of Education.”
Sean McMorris, a consultant with good government agency California Common Cause, says the state law “is clear that public resources cannot be used ‘for campaign activity, or personal or other purposes.’”
“While using a government email account for re-election fundraising might fall within the minimal use exception in the law, depending on the circumstances, it likely violates the letter and certainly the spirit of the law,” he said. “That said, many would agree that an elected official using their government email to fundraise for their re-election campaign is unethical, regardless of whether or not it is unlawful in all instances.”
In an Aug. 24 memo, SCCOE Superintendent Mary Ann Dewan gave trustees, her employees and charter school operators an annual reminder to refrain from using county resources—including email accounts—for political activities.
“The law prohibits any misuse of public resources or personnel for political activities, no matter how small,” she wrote.
Several weeks later, Dewan appeared to have caught on that Di Salvo broke the law.
In an Oct. 1 letter, Dewan said she received complaints with allegations about Di Salvo’s political activities, both of which she confirmed to be true. The first complaint, received Sept. 21, said the trustee had listed the Office of Education’s Ridder Park Drive address as his official campaign headquarters on his website. The address has since been updated.
The second complaint, which came from SCCOE’s technology division, was about Di Salvo using his county-issued email account to solicit campaign donations.
“Your use of SCCOE’s address and internal email system benefits your campaign and has the potential to confuse prospective voters into assuming you have an official endorsement from the SCCOE,” Dewan wrote.
Di Salvo could not be reached for comment. However, in a Oct. 5 email he told Dewan that he knows “the law and policy well."
“[I] have never used my SCCOE email to solicit campaign contributions with intentionality,” he wrote. “I have always intentionally used, as you use in all my digital correspondence from [email protected]”
Dewan did not respond to a request for additional comment.