Robinson: Liccardo's allies aren't doing him any favors
Former Mayor Sam Liccardo celebrates his early lead in the Congressional District 16 race at a watch party on March 5, 2024. Photo by Jana Kadah.

The Congressional District 16 recount being tawdrily funded by an independent expenditure close to candidate Sam Liccardo is a huge mistake.

The genesis is apparently a poll that showed Liccardo would benefit from a two-person race. As the survey hasn’t been released, we don’t know what those results show. But apparently it was concerning enough to warrant Liccardo’s friends to form a PAC and fund the recount.

But I wonder if the following question was asked, “Would you be more or less likely to support a candidate who funded a recount in an effort to remove one of his opponents from the ballot?”

The Liccardo campaign can argue it was not them, but the public won’t distinguish the difference.

In fact, the response by the Liccardo campaign was a wink and a nod to proceed with the effort. The pious response from the Liccardo spokesperson that “every vote counts” rings hollow when you took a poll to decide whether to move forward. It is also similar to the messaging in the PAC’s name “Count The Vote.”

Politically, many of us believe this was an unforced error by Liccardo’s friends. There is now an FEC complaint about coordination between Liccardo's campaign and the PAC. This is an issue that could have been entirely avoided if no recount had been pursued.

The FEC complaint is a specious attempt to legally tag Liccardo with an ethics issue, it won’t garner anything but headlines. But that is the point. The link is there, even if this effort is legal.

Jonathan Padilla is smart, has been in politics a long time and knows the rules. Further, Jim Sutton, who recently joined the firm of Rutan & Tucker, is an experienced political lawyer and expert on advising clients regarding independent expenditures. Legally, Liccardo is probably in the clear. Politically, however, is another story.

The effort has stirred the ire of Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, the legendary lawmaker who is vacating her seat. While she endorsed Joe Simitian in the primary, her anger at the unnamed sources of funding for the recall has caused further attention on Liccardo and his friends. When all is said and done, it will probably be revealed that Liccardo supporters are behind the effort, but that information is not yet available. The failure of “Count The Vote” to reveal its sources will cause further investigation of the motives behind the recount.

Simitian, for his part, has been silent. The old winning strategy of “when your opponent is in a hole, silently hand him a shovel,” is apparent. Assemblymember Evan Low had to respond. The disingenuous filing for the recount that states it is for Low is a little too clever by half. Low’s campaign responded angrily to the assertion, as it was politically forced to do. Clearly, the PAC is interested in electing Liccardo, not Low.

Most political experts believed that a tie was a win for Liccardo, at least on the surface. He came in first in the primary election and most of the votes were split among two liberal democrats, giving him a clear third lane.

The poll must have shown otherwise. But as Liccardo’s allies proceed, they are doing him no favors. When you have three candidates of similar philosophy on the ballot, the voters will make their choice based on character.

If the voters perceive one candidate engaging in politics they see as unethical, regardless of legality, they will reject that candidate.

While it will probably result that no legal coordination between Liccardo and “Count The Vote” exists, the voters won’t distinguish the difference. Nor will the media and Liccardo’s eventual opponent or opponents let him avoid the matter.

And Liccardo, who has run a tremendous campaign to date, may face issues of his own integrity, brought on by his friends.

Lucescamaray Blog columnist Rich Robinson is a political consultant, attorney and author of “The Shadow Candidate.” His columns appear every fourth Wednesday of the month.

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