For most San Diegans, the mayoral race of the year 2000 was right here at home, between Judge Dick Murphy and county supervisor Ron Roberts. More than $3 million was lavished on the campaign by the two candidates and their many primary challengers. Generous developers, property owners, lawyers, cable-TV executives, along with lobbyists and favor-seekers of all stripes, made the local electoral battle a fundraisers' paradise.
But San Diego is not the only city where the political action is. Just up the coast in Los Angeles, 24 candidates ran in this month's mayoral primary, and many of them had their hands out to financial angels and special interests based in San Diego County. A little over two weeks ago, on April 10, the top two vote-getters, state Assemblyman Antonio Villaraigosa and L.A. city attorney James Hahn, emerged from the bitter primary fray.
They face a runoff election on June 5, which means that their fundraising race will become even more intense in the six weeks to come. A key to winning the race is believed to be which of the candidates can successfully woo the backers of Steve Soboroff, the Republican endorsed by outgoing mayor Richard Riordan. Soboroff, with 21 percent of the vote, placed third in the primary to Villaraigosa, who got 30 percent, and Hahn, who received 25.
But unlike the Murphy-Roberts race, which pitted builders, architects, and labor unions for Roberts against Murphy's crew of silk-stocking Republican lawyers and wealthy La Jolla "Greens," the political leanings of San Diego donors in Los Angeles have been much less predictable. L.A. politics is a lot more left of center than San Diego's, and even the most conservative San Diego Republicans, such as attorney John Davies, an old-line Republican stalwart who is counted as one of ex-governor Pete Wilson's best friends, find themselves providing financial succor to liberal Democrats.
In addition to Davies, those San Diego Republicans who gave to Democrats include Julie Meier Wright, the ex-Pete Wilson aide who heads up the San Diego Economic Development Commission; Rancho Santa Fe economist Art Laffer, whose supply-side theories were the backbone of President Ronald Reagan's economic policies; and investment banker and one-time C. Arnholt Smith crony James Mulvaney. All appear to have their own motives for their sudden change of allegiance.
The San Diego push is expected to become even more intense because Hahn and Villaraigosa will need every donor they can line up. Under L.A.'s campaign-finance law, which provides public matching funds, each candidate is limited to raising $1.76 million but can only accept $1000 per person.
That may put Hahn at a major disadvantage in the coming election; Villaraigosa has been endorsed by the state Democratic party and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, each of which poured huge amounts of money into his primary campaign and are expected to spend even more in the runoff.
Using a loophole in city law, both the party and the labor unions acted independently of Villaraigosa's campaign, thus exempting them from the $1000 contribution maximum. They also don't have to report the source of their money until well after the runoff election, based on the city's interpretation of state Proposition 37, passed last November.
Hahn and others have been lobbying the city council to adopt new standards to force the disclosure of the source of the independent expenditures by labor and the Democrats, so far with little success. Last week, the Los Angeles Times quoted state Democratic party chairman Art Torres as saying the party planned an "aggressive" independent effort to get Villaraigosa elected but would not disclose how much money the Democrats planned to commit.
Between them, L.A.'s top six mayoral contenders have tapped San Diego County for more than $100,000 of campaign support during the primary, according to a review of financial disclosure records on file in the office of the Los Angeles city Ethics Commission.
The records show that frontrunner Villaraigosa picked up $1000 from a host of San Diegans, including Republican lawyers John Davies and Chris Frahm, a former member of the San Diego County water board, which is frequently at odds with the City of Los Angeles and the Metropolitan Water Authority over a plan for San Diego to buy and ship water directly from farmers in the Imperial Valley. (Frahm's firm is now suing MWD on the San Diego water board's behalf.) Attorney Michael Thorsnes of Thorsnes Bartolotta & McGwuire also gave $1000.
Other $1000 Villaraigosa donors included Democratic state senator Steve Peace, the producer of the Killer Tomato movies, as well as two Peace-affiliated firms, National City Civic Center Drive Associates and Killer Tomato Entertainment Inc. Coronado assemblyman M. Howard Wayne gave $700 and ex-assemblywoman Denise Ducheny gave $250. Keith Talmadge of the law firm of Egger & Talmadge also made the maximum contribution, as did Virginia Olshan of Jelley Properties and John Klinedinst of Klinedinst Fliehman; and James Schultz of Cunningham, Lindsey gave $500.
Villaraigosa was one of two Hispanic candidates in the primary race. The other, Democratic congressman Xavier Becerra, also picked up his share of San Diego money from a surprising variety of sources, both Democrat and Republican. Most prominent among the local Becerra backers was U.S. Attorney Gregory Vega, a Clinton appointee, with a $1000 contribution. Other donors included Yvonne Campos of the U.S. Attorney's office ($1000); George Aguilar of the U.S. Department of Justice ($500); Christopher Tenorio of the U.S. Department of Justice ($400); SDG&E lobbyist Ralph Inzunza, since elected to the San Diego City Council ($250); and former Gray Davis aide Vincent Hall ($250). The United Domestic Workers of America gave $1000, as did Gigante Holdings International of Otay Mesa.
Qualcomm was represented by lobbyist William Bold, who gave $500, and Jeffrey Jacobs, who also contributed $500. Republican Julie Meier Wright, of the taxpayer-funded Economic Development Corporation, is listed as giving $125. Roberta Sistos, of the law firm of Barbosa Garcia LLP, gave $1000.
Vega's involvement with Becerra, the first Latino named to the House Ways and Means Committee and a state-assembly veteran, has raised eyebrows in light of the congressman's controversial lobbying of President Bill Clinton on behalf of a Los Angeles drug dealer. Carlos Vignali had served 6 years of a 15-year sentence on a cocaine-selling conspiracy rap when he was pardoned by Clinton on January 20. It later emerged that Clinton's brother-in-law Hugh Rodham had received $200,000 to work behind the scenes on Vignali's behalf.