One mayoral candidate who didn't collect a dime from the Spanos family was county supervisor Ron Roberts, but he found plenty of other donors as he raised $373,051, the highest total of the field. A longtime baseball fan and friend of Padres owner John Moores, Roberts did not get any money from the computer-turned-sports-mogul and his business partner Lucchino. Insiders say Moores, with details of his costly and controversial stadium still pending before the city council, doesn't want to antagonize councilmembers Wear, Warden, and Stevens by donating to their powerful rival.
Roberts is expected to get a huge infusion of cash from Moores and his friends as the election draws closer, and especially if he is forced into a November run-off after the March 2000 primary. Even now, money with Padres connections is beginning to show up in Roberts's treasury. Padres announcer Gerry Coleman gave $250. Samuel H. Kennedy, whose job is listed as "sales" for the Padres, also gave $250. Other ties between Roberts's donors and the Padres are more intriguing.
One of Roberts's biggest financial angels was San Diego's Roel Construction, whose employees are listed as contributing heavily to his cause. Roel has become a contracting powerhouse downtown, recently having completed a new Marriott suite hotel on Pacific Highway just across the street from the county building. The Marriott project, built with support of San Diego city government, may only be the beginning for Roel, which is widely expected to angle for construction work connected to the proposed downtown baseball stadium.
According to his disclosure filing, Roberts collected amounts ranging from $25 to $250 worth of "catering" (presumably for a Roberts fundraising event) from Roel project managers Sheila Merrill, David Burks, Gail Kindred, Lynne Manner, Charles Holmes, Jacquie Johnston, Juliana Dupuis Miele, Claudia Jackson, and Dave McCarthy.
It is illegal for city council and mayoral candidates to accept corporate contributions, so only Roel employees and not Roel itself could legally give directly to Roberts. The disclosure shows that the Roberts campaign reimbursed the Roel corporation $400 for "invites, postage, and temp help," and Roel owner Stephen Roel another $400 for "entertainment." Stephen Roel had already made the maximum $250 personal contribution imposed by law and therefore could not make a so-called "in-kind" contribution to the campaign.
Roel and Roberts are both admirers of the Padres. According to an item in the Union-Tribune's Diane Bell column last month, Padre co-owner Larry Lucchino and Roberts "teamed up on a Qualcomm stage before the Padres game Monday to the hammering beat of Steve Roel's rock 'n' Roel (Construction) band."
According to another Bell item on May 15, Roel and his band entertained at a Roberts fundraiser. "That's a band of local business execs led by contractor Steve Roel. 'The construction business is a front,' Roberts kidded. 'The real job is that band.' To which Roel replied: 'It pays more -- with the city [building] fees.' "
Besides the catering expenses picked up by Roel employees, many of them also gave cash to the Roberts campaign. Contributors from Roel included: Stephen Robert Dunn of Vista, $100; Stephen Roel, $250; Steve L. Mead, $250; Craig D. Koehler, $250; Consalacion Valencia Fayad, $25; Donna J. Vargo, $250; John W. Elliott, $250; Andrew Roel, $250; Elizabeth Becerra Main, $50; Diana Martinez, $100; William A. Shaw, Jr., $250; Kevin J. Elliott, $250; Wendy E. Brinker, $25; Geoffrey W. Sherman, $50; Jeanne Roel, $250; Karin L. Fowler, $30; Darlene Garcia, $25; Ramon B. Camacho, $250; Patricia Lynn Gomez, $25; and R. Daniel Dalry, $50.
Suspicions about Roberts's ties to Roel were heightened after a huge banner bearing the name Roel Construction and congratulating Padres slugger Tony Gwynn on his 3000th hit appeared several weeks ago on the front of the County Administration Building on Pacific Highway. "It looks real fishy to me," said one county employee who declined to be identified.
Roberts calls Stephen Roel a "longtime friend." "Steve's been close to me and I think he has been from day one. He's helped me every time. He basically beats the drum." He notes that Roel shares his interest in the Padres. "I'm a Padres fan, I have to tell you that," says Roberts. "And Steve has become pretty strongly interested. He became a [Padres] sponsor this year. You'll see a sign out in the right center field. In fact, I kid him; he just seems like he's got one of the most well-placed signs. He did well. He also sponsored the fireworks for the Fourth of July. I may have introduced him to John Moores, but whatever he's done [with the Padres], he's done on his own. I don't think he's involved in the construction of the ballpark, he may be involved in something in that area."
As for Roel's banner in honor of Tony Gwynn now festooning the county building, Roberts explains: "I wanted to do a thing for Tony Gwynn, and I asked our people to put something together. In the past, we had done things like that and kind of scrounged a few bucks, and they were never done right, so this time I told our guys to design something right and I'd find the money, and Steve was the first guy I called to sponsor the thing.
"I called Steve and said, 'I'd really like to put something up for Tony Gwynn,' and he said, 'Sure, can I have a little advertisement?" The sign cost about $1500, according to Roberts.
Another Roberts backer with intimate ties to the Padres is the controversial diet drug maker Metabolife. The San Diego-based company got a dose of unfavorable publicity in May after the Washington Post reported that company founder Michael J. Ellis and his partner had been busted a decade ago for operating a methamphetamine lab in Rancho Santa Fe. The Post also revealed that Ellis and other Metabolife officials and distributors had funneled $26,000 in campaign contributions to Republican congressman Brian Bilbray. Metabolife was reportedly seeking favorable treatment in Congress regarding the regulation of ephedrine, a methamphetamine precursor that is also a key ingredient in Metabolife's diet pills.