"Based on our investigation, we do not have credible evidence establishing that Ms. Stryker's valuations of the three gifts were not a reasonable approximation. By law, she therefore lacks a financial interest in [the ballpark project] because she has not been the recipient of gifts in excess of $300 from any donor, specifically Mr. Moores."
Earlier in 1999, when Mel Shapiro, a retired accountant, objected that Moores and then Padres co-owner Larry Lucchino appeared to be violating the city's influence-peddling law by failing to file lobbying statements disclosing gifts and dinners they had bestowed during their private meetings with public officials, Gwinn backed Moores.
"Mr. Moores and Mr. Lucchino," Gwinn's office ruled, "are exempted from the registration requirements because they have been negotiating a written agreement following the selection of the San Diego Padres as party to a contract with the city." The city council, following Gwinn's advice, later changed the wording of the lobbying law to make it more difficult for private citizens to file complaints such as Shapiro's. As a result, Shapiro concluded, the law "has been gutted -- now they don't have to report at all." Campaign records showed that during 1999 Gwinn had collected at least $1000 in campaign contributions from Moores and members of the Moores family.
When the Stallings matter became public in April 2000, Gwinn's response was to argue that the councilwoman had broken no laws. He reasoned that, because she had purchased stock in a Moores entity -- a Texas software company called Neon Systems -- unrelated to the stadium, the conflict-of-interest laws were not violated.
"People are calling us and writing us and e-mailing us, and people are angry, and a fair amount of their anger is directed toward me -- 'Why don't you step up and condemn this?' " Gwinn told the Union-Tribune in May 2000. "I'm not the ethics police. And that's frustrating to the public, who believe I should be. My role is to determine whether or not it is a violation of state law or local law that I have jurisdiction over. My role is not to say whether something is immoral or unethical."
Ultimately, Stallings pled guilty to the crime of failing to report gifts from Moores and voting with a conflict of interest, but by then Gwinn was no longer involved with the case, which was ultimately handled by the offices of U.S. Attorney and District Attorney. In a column dated May 16, 2000, Union-Tribune financial columnist Don Bauder reported that Gwinn, still taking no action himself, had referred the matter to the state's Fair Political Practices Commission and federal Securities and Exchange Commission. But, reported Bauder, "That may not be enough." He quoted attorney Richard E. Gattis as saying, "The DA is the appropriate person to investigate this, either the DA or attorney general in light of the fact that Gwinn has prejudged the case."
This month, Gwinn's efforts on behalf of John Moores and the downtown baseball stadium took a more personal turn, with the object of Gwinn's wrath being none other than Bauder, the respected columnist whose views are often at odds with those of the paper's editorial page. A longtime critic of the stadium deal, Bauder has frequently picked apart what he says are questionable financial details of the taxpayer-financed plan. As the one establishment voice speaking out against the proposal, Bauder has become a lightning rod for proponents frustrated by the legal and financial pitfalls the project has faced.
On November 6, Bauder opened a column about the baseball stadium by saying, "Do you know how to throw good money after bad? The city of San Diego proposes to give you a lesson.
"If you're already bald, like me, you should be able to read it without developing more follicle problems. If you have your hair, use Rogaine before tackling this document."
He went on to present a harrowing litany of damages to be suffered by taxpayers and concluded, "Mayor Murphy boasts that the size of the bond sale has been pared from $273 million to $170 million. But the difference simply comes out of another pocket. It won't be paid by the tooth fairy. The interest rate is so staggeringly high because all along, this deal has been a financial fantasy — if not finagling."
Noting that the ballpark bonds would command an unprecedented 8.83 interest rate, Bauder said, "The interest rate is so staggeringly high because the city cannot get unqualified approval of its bond counsel." He included a single, one-line quote from Zane Mann, a Palm Springs-based financial journalist who runs a newsletter called the California Municipal Bond Advisor. "In the municipal bond market, you couldn't sell a bond without the OK of bond counsel."
The next day, Gwinn wrote a letter to Union-Tribune editor Karin Winner, in which he claimed, "Mr. Bauder has misrepresented the truth through conduct that may be legally actionable." In other words, Gwinn was threatening to sue the paper for what his letter alleged was Bauder's "misconduct."
"First and foremost, it is clear that Mr. Bauder contacted Zane Mann, the owner and publisher of the California Municipal Bond Advisor and made a false statement regarding the City's ballpark financing with knowledge that this statement was false," the letter said.
"After reading Mr. Bauder's column, I contacted Zane Mann to inquire of Mr. Bauder's interview with him. Mr. Mann told me that Don Bauder called him and told him that 'The city does not have a bond counsel opinion' for the proposed financing. Mr. Mann said that his entire conversation and all of his comments were premised on that false statement by Don Bauder. Mr. Mann did not know until I called him that the City has an opinion from bond counsel. He said that, based on Don Bauder's negative and false assertions during their interview, he was unaware of the true nature of our bond issuance until I called to explain the truth.
"It is readily apparent that Mr. Bauder knew that the City is moving forward on a qualified legal opinion from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe because he describes the qualified opinion in his column. Nevertheless, he made a false representation to the owner and publisher of the primary publication for the marketing of the City's bonds. His conduct is a clear effort to negatively impact the City's ability to market its bonds to the municipal bond market.