49ers spent millions on Santa Clara politics. Are teams too powerful?

Even sports fans should be troubled by the staggering amount of cash the San Francisco 49ers dumped into local politics this election cycle. 

According to state records, the Santa Clara-based NFL team led by the billionaire York family dropped nearly $4.6 million into that city’s elections. Current City Council member and mayoral candidate Anthony Becker’s campaign received $2.4 million while Council Members Raj Chahal and Karen Hardy campaigns each received over $1 million. Chahal outspent his challengers 43-to-1 and Hardy outspent her opponents 38-to-1.

Those are huge amounts for a city election in which donations to the incumbent mayor’s campaign totaled about $321,000. 

Why were the 49ers so heavily invested in the outcome of the election? Many believe that this investment was meant to ensure amenable politicians will allow the team to do as it pleases. Public records show that all three candidates the team supported, as well as two other current City Council members, met regularly in private with 49ers’ executives in the first eight months of 2021. Then in August of last year, all five of those members voted to fire the city attorney, Brian Doyle, who the 49ers wanted “gone,” according to City Council Member Sudhanshu Jain. 

Last month, a civil grand jury strongly rebuked the five council members for putting “the 49ers’ interests ahead of the city’s interests,” alleging the council majority had “effectively breached its duties to the City.”

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