Councilmen Return Illegal Contributions

Charles Morales and Bob Dillon send developer’s cash back
Gilroy – Two city council candidates have returned illegal campaign contributions to local developer James Suner, according to the candidates and campaign finance disclosure forms.

Suner, who is responsible for a dozen small-scale residential projects in Gilroy in the last five years, asked for refunds from Bob Dillon and Charles Morales, both incumbents in the Nov. 8 election, after determining that a portion of his contributions violated local limits on political spending.

Campaign finance forms submitted to City Hall on Friday show that both candidates returned $250 to Ohlone Customs LLC, one of a series of investment groups formed by Suner to finance various housing projects around the city.

Dillon said he asked Suner to investigate the legality of the contributions in the wake of an Oct. 4 Dispatch story detailing how the developer channeled $1,750 in contributions to three candidates. The money came through Suner’s corporation, The James Group, and four limited liability companies. Developers typically form the latter to shield personal or corporate assets from investors in different enterprises.

City ordinance caps campaign contributions from a single individual or entity at $250 in a given election cycle, and state guidelines require candidates to add up multiple donations from the same person or entity and disclose them as a lump sum. For campaign finance purposes, state law regards different LLCs as a single entity only when the majority of ownership is held by the same individual or group of individuals.

Suner represents all the investment groups involved in the city’s permitting process, but said in October that he did not hold majority ownership of more than one group.

He declined to comment on today’s story.

Dillon, though, said the developer asked for a contribution refund after determining that he did, in fact, have majority ownership of more than one of the contributing groups.

Dillon read a section from Suner’s letter: “It appears that we have more than 50 percent ownership of the James Group and Ohlone Customs LLC. Therefore, we are requesting that you refund $250 to Ohlone Customs LLC.”

The refunds have not slowed Suner’s efforts to channel cash to nearly all candidates. Dillon returned $250, but kept $1,000 in contributions from four other Suner groups. Morales, who received $1,250 from the same entities, also returned $250 from Ohlone Customs and kept the remaining $1,000.

Suner is an active member of the local development community who has received overwhelming approval from council members on nine residential developments in the past three years. He is currently working to obtain approval on three more projects. In addition, he has played an influential role in crafting policies credited for jump-starting downtown redevelopment.

In this election, Suner and his investment groups have funneled a combined $3,500 to four council candidates.

Morales commended him for taking the initiative and asking for a refund of contributions that ran foul of campaign finance laws.

Suner’s contributions

Five development groups formed by James Suner have funneled a combined $3,500 to four city council candidates:

Candidate Contribution Total

Dion Bracco $1,000

Bob Dillon $1,000

Craig Gartman $500

Charles Morales $1,000

The Suner groups that made contributions:

• Eleventh Street Commons

• The James Group

• Lone Oak Court LLC

• Masoni Orchard LLC

• Ohlone Customs LLC

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