.George Shirakawa Campaign Secrets – Features & Columns

FATHER: George Shirakawa Sr. passed away in office in 1994 while serving as a San Jose councilmember. His son, George Jr., was then appointed to take over his City Council seat. Photograph by George Sakkestad

The Debt

On one of two pieces of writing paper Shirakawa provided, titled “Partial List Checks,” there is an informal list of contributors that the supervisor says helped him pay off some of his $110,000 campaign debt in the first quarter of 2009. “Garcia for School,” referencing his chief of staff’s school board campaign, is listed as a $2,500 contributor.

Shirakawa has yet to compile an official paper trail of money he has collected since the beginning of 2009. But if the following denominations are correct, he may have exceeded the $500 contribution limits per filing period.

The largest contribution on the handwritten list—$5,000—came from “Cal Waste,” in reference to California Waste Solutions, which handles recycling subcontracting duties for San Jose. The company received its first contract with the city in Shirakawa’s last year as a San Jose councilmember.

Second highest on the handwritten list of contributors provided by Shirakawa is Marvelous Inc., itemized as a $4,000 contributor. No phone number for the company could be found, and Shirakawa did not respond to an email asking about his assocation with the business.

Third most on the list, at $3,500, was Seville Group, a construction management company that received at least one contract of more than $200,000 from the East Side Union school board when Shirakawa served as a board member. The Seville Group also gave Shirakawa’s campaign $1,000 when he was running for the county board in 2008. The firm has notably been enmeshed in a pay-to-play scandal with the Sweetwater school district in San Diego, with multiple public officials facing criminal charges for accepting unreported gifts from the firm. One contractor pleaded guilty earlier this year to making illegal gifts to public officials.

Jean Lu also contributed $1,000 to help pay off Shirakawa’s debt, according to the supervisor’s notes. Lu is a board member for the Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce for the San Francisco Bay Area. Shirakawa benefited from his relationship with that chamber as recently as a year ago, when he was paid $6,625 to attend an eight-day event on the chamber’s behalf.

Shirakawa also received $1,000 contributions from the Santa Clara County Building and Trades Council, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, and the OE3—the county’s engineers union.

Shirakawa’s informal list of contributors, which he admitted was hashed together the day of Metro’s interview in his office, notes: “A number of 50-500 checks not included.”

When exactly the information will come to light about money Shirakawa’s campaign received to pay off its debt is uncertain. An official at the FPPC—the state’s bipartisan political watchdog group, which conducts audits and investigations, and hands out fines—could not comment publicly because an investigation could be launched as a result of Metro’s inquiries. The FPPC has investigated Shirakawa twice in the past. In 2001, he was warned about improper disclosure on a mass mailer. In 2006, there was a similar issue, but in that incident the FPPC had insufficient evidence to move forward. (Ironically, Shirakawa was part of a group called “Chicanos Against Corruption” in the latter case.)

An FPPC official did confirm an investigation, if initiated, could be completed before the end of this year. Shirakawa could be fined up to $5,000 for each late campaign disclosure form from the 2008 race. With the Registrar of Voters confirming that nine forms are missing from that particular campaign, that brings potential fines for these violations to $45,000.

However, if the county fines Shirakawa, he could end up paying a $10 per day fine for each form that is late, which would come closer to Shirakawa’s estimate of $10,000. He could also pay nothing if the county chooses not to fine him.

For the moment, though, Shirakawa will not commit to a timeline for when he will submit his campaign filings. “I can’t give you a date,” he says. “I’ll do it as soon as I can. I think I can get it done before November.”

When told he could avoid all fines by just never turning in his forms, Shirakawa insists that won’t be the case. “Don’t worry about that. I’m gonna turn in my forms,” he says. “Unless I’m dead, I’m gonna turn in my forms.

“There’s no excuse, man. I made a mistake, man. I’m looking in the eyes of a man and telling you I can’t tell you a good excuse, because I probably would try to use it if I could. But I can’t give you a good excuse.”


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