John C. Funk, a Harvard-educated environmental law attorney with the law firm of Weston, Benshoof, Rochefort, Rubalcava MacCuish in Los Angeles, represents some of the biggest companies in California, including the ubiquitous Allied Waste, the trash hauler that runs the controversial Sycamore Canyon landfill in San Diego.
Befitting his position, Funk is a veteran contributor to the campaigns of local officials throughout the state. "I know the laws very well," he laughs during a telephone interview from his downtown offices. "I'm a pro."
Thus, Funk was surprised to learn that his occupation had been listed as "retired" on the latest campaign-fundraising report filed by Mayor Dick Murphy. "I don't know how they got that idea," he laughs. "That's a mistake. I'm a practicing attorney, certainly." Funk says he mailed his $250 October contribution to the Murphy campaign, though he doesn't specifically remember whether he filled out a form that required him to state his profession, as required by law. "I'm assuming I did. I never would have said I was 'retired.' "
Funk was not alone. The Murphy campaign's post-election filing, which includes contributions from October 22 to December 31, 2000, reports that 65 donors were "retired." Yet many of those contributors, a search of public records reveals, were actually business owners, real estate investors, or otherwise employed full-time. One group of donors, all of whom were listed by the Murphy camp as "retired," are associated with a New Jersey development company once sued by the U.S. Department of Justice for allegedly refusing to rent to black tenants.
Murphy chief of staff John Kern, who was the mayor's chief campaign consultant last year, referred all questions about the apparent reporting discrepancies to William R. Baber, the Murphy campaign's treasurer. Baber, a La Mesa attorney, now serves as the consultant to the city council rules committee, to which Murphy appointed him.
"Some of these, you know, if they write 'retired,' I don't follow up to see if they are telling the truth," Baber says. "It's only a reasonable diligence I can give to some of these. Look, I'm not saying I didn't goof. I've done so many of these, I'm experienced enough to know I can make a mistake.
"It's somewhat of a more art than science. Someone will write 'semi-retired investor'; now what the hell does that mean? I don't know. But I'm assuming if you're semi-retired, you're retired. And what's an investor? If somebody wrote 'semi-retired investor,' I would usually put 'retired.' Or somebody puts 'of counsel,' which is the legal term for old attorneys, retired, I would put 'retired'. And, obviously, if they put 'retired.' But if they put 'developer,' I would never put 'retired.' "
The occupational discrepancies also raise questions about whether any of the misidentified contributors were reimbursed by others. If so, that would be a violation of the city ordinance against laundering of campaign contributions by corporations. Over the years the city has faced six major scandals as large corporations such as Cox Communications were forced to pay large fines when they were caught money-laundering.
Some of the so-called "retirees" have famous names, such as Donald Bren, the Irvine Ranch developer with large real estate holdings in San Diego, who appears annually on Forbes magazine's richest list with a fortune of $4 billion. Others, such as Orange County's Gary Hunt, who until January worked for Bren, are well-known in the closely interlocking world of California politics and lobbying. Bren and Hunt each gave Murphy the $250 maximum contribution for the primary and general elections.
Another donor is Terrance Caster from El Cajon. Although identified on the Murphy report as "retired," records show that Caster is associated with a string of storage-warehouse operations called A-1 Self Storage and is involved in numerous other real estate activities around San Diego County. His work on behalf of an orphanage in Tijuana has been written up by the Union-Tribune. A financing statement from last year pegs his net worth at $66 million and says he has an annual income of $9.2 million. Telephone calls left at his office were not returned.
Another locally famous name listed as "retired" is Karen McElliott, chairwoman of the city's Qualcomm Stadium board of directors and a failed District 5 city council candidate. A former planning commissioner who was repeatedly identified during her council campaign as a "businesswoman," McElliott owns an interest in a chain of nursing homes as well as various San Diego real estate developments and is listed in state corporate records as president of R and K Development.
Downtown developer James McMillan, who's listed at the Eighth Avenue offices of OliverMcMillan, is also said to be "retired." M.T. McMillan, of the same address, is similarly listed. Yet other "retirees" are Stephen Jensen of Ramona, who works for a soils-testing outfit called SCST, and Ramona's David Krauth, employed by the transportation engineering firm of Linscott, Law, and Greenspan. Others listed as retired, such as Glenn and Penelope MacKenzie of Grass Valley, California, could not be reached to confirm their status.
Perhaps the most intriguing group of "retirees" listed by the Murphy campaign is connected with Garden Communities, a large residential and shopping-center development company based in New Jersey. Based on a review of public records, six Murphy donors listed as retired are actually owners of the firm or have active business associations with it. They include Joseph Wilf of Hillside, New Jersey; Leonard Wilf of Short Hills, New Jersey; Zygmunt Wilf of Springfield, New Jersey; Scott Loventhal of Livingston, New Jersey; Mario Dudzinski of Pinebrook, New Jersey; and Joseph Korn of Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Stuart B. Posnock of San Diego is listed by the Murphy campaign as president of Garden Communities. In all, the Garden Communities-related donors gave Murphy $1750. The same donors also contributed to the campaign of city councilmen Brian Maienschein and Scott Peters.
Repeated calls to Garden Communities offices in both San Diego and New Jersey went unreturned. Joseph Wilf was contacted by telephone at his home in New Jersey. Asked why he was interested in San Diego politics, Wilf responded: "My interest? Actually, I am not used to giving interviews on the telephone. It's kind of unusual. Our name is known in the San Diego area. Why should I respond on the phone? I have no information. My contribution was a few hundred dollars."