This year, both mayoral candidates, Dick Murphy and Ron Roberts, have proposed versions of a revived ethics committee along the lines of the one that the present city council has repeatedly rejected. At least until after the election, though, those proposals will remain campaign promises. Meanwhile, the cost of city campaigns -- which require increasingly expensive purchases of television and radio advertising time, highly paid political consultants, and direct-mailings to sway voters -- is soaring. And, according to disclosure records on file at city hall, hundreds of campaign donors from all over the United States have been rushing to funnel a total of more than a million and a half dollars into the race.
Will San Diego's history of laundered contributions repeat itself this year? A computer analysis of contributions to Murphy and Roberts reveals that each has collected multiple contributions from employees of the same firm, their spouses, and other relatives -- which is legal as long as they have not been reimbursed. A small sample of these individuals was contacted by phone and each who agreed to be interviewed denied that he had been reimbursed. Others hung up the phone or failed to return phone calls. Of historical note is the fact that lawyers for Frank Gatlin, the Wal-Mart developer who in 1996 admitted laundering funds to city-council races, denied he had laundered money. The denials came during a 1994 interview by a reporter who first discovered and reported their suspicious giving patterns.
As of this June 30, the most recent date for which campaign disclosures are available, the two finalists for mayor, Dick Murphy and Ron Roberts, reported having raised about $1.5 million between them. County Supervisor Roberts, a former architect and a prodigious fundraiser ever since his first successful race for San Diego City Council in 1986, has collected about $1.1 million since forming his mayoral finance committee in December 1998. Murphy, a Superior Court judge on leave from the bench (who was not widely expected to make it into the general election past his better-funded opponents), has collected far less, a reported $467,464.
With a judge in the race who may soon return to the bench, it might not seem surprising that lawyers have contributed heavily. But it turns out that the city's big-name law firms have split their donations, favoring Murphy by about 60 percent to 40 percent. Murphy has also collected at least $18,000 from those who list their occupation as "judge." Roberts got only about $1200.
Roberts, on the other hand, did well with employees of companies that have had business before the board of supervisors. An example is SAIC (Science Applications International Corp.), a La Jollabased thinktank and defense contractor unafraid to throw its political influence around.
At the beginning of 1999, as Roberts began to collect contributions to his campaign for mayor, the county proposed to "outsource" its data-processing system to a group of private contractors. The move would cost 300 county workers their jobs, but the board of supervisors said it would save tax dollars. The employees' union, Service Employees International Local 2028, countered that the private contract would end up costing taxpayers more, not less.
Despite the critics, the board of supervisors proceeded with what was to become a seven-year, $650 million contract with three one-year options to revamp and operate the county's confusing maze of computer and telecommunications systems. The board began recruiting bidders for its so-called "Information Technology Outsourcing Program" on February 24, 1999, and by that May was reviewing four proposals.
Meanwhile, the companies competing for the lucrative data-processing deal were fighting their own battles against one another for the favor of the county supervisors. Each of the four leading bidders -- EDS, CSC, IBM, and Lockheed -- had formed partnerships with locally based companies. Electronic Data System had joined with cell-phone giant Qualcomm and Gateway Computers, a recently arrived transplant from South Dakota. CSC paired with Science Applications International. Also in the Computer Science Corporation's consortium, which called itself "The Pennant Alliance -- San Diego's Home Team Advantage," was Pacific Bell and Lucent Technologies.
When the winner was announced on October 15, 1999, few insiders were surprised. Computer Science Corporation's Pennant Alliance had carried the day, some said, by virtue of its aggressive lobbying. When the final contract was ratified by the supervisors on October 26, suspicions were fueled when the board voted 4-0 to approve the plan without question or discussion. According to an account in the next day's Union-Tribune, "Supervisor Ron Roberts acknowledged the lack of questions, but said he and other supervisors had closely tracked the yearlong process and had asked questions behind closed doors."
But was merit the only thing that Science Applications had in its favor? Less than a month after the final vote to approve the Pennant Alliance contract, records show, SAIC employees began to contribute heavily to the Roberts campaign for San Diego mayor. Campaign disclosure records show that on November 11, 1999, two weeks later, William Roper, Jr., the company's chief financial officer, gave $250 on the same day founder J. Robert Beyster gave $250, as did two other SAIC workers and their wives. No Science Applications employees gave to Roberts's opponent, Richard Murphy.
The photos and names of many of the Roberts donors can be found on the website of the Pennant Alliance. Richard Jennings, a Computer Science Corporation senior systems scientist who gave Roberts $250 on December 9 of last year, is listed as the alliance's "lead executive." Edward Timmes, a Science Applications employee who contributed $250 on March 3 of this year, is listed as an alliance "executive," along with another SAIC employee, Michael Moore, who is listed by the Roberts campaign as having contributed $250 on January 17, 2000.
Shila Patel, whose photo appears on the website under the title "business unit account executive" and is listed on Roberts's disclosure as a CSC employee with an address in Corona, gave $250 on May 23, 2000. Louis Poanessa, also pictured and listed with the same title as Patel, gave $250 on the same date. Another account executive, Computer Science Corporation employee Kristine Buitenhek, along with Peter Buitenhek, listed as "retired" at the same address, each gave Roberts $250 on December 26, 1999. A fourth account executive and Roberts donor -- whose photo appears in the website gallery next to Patel, Poanessa, and Buitenhek -- raises other questions.