Madaffer himself, who was reached on his cell phone as he arrived for an event at San Diego State University's Cox Arena last Thursday, also says he doesn't recall the specifics of how the Pro Kids group came to donate money to him more than a year after his campaign ended. "I made lots of calls. I can't remember. When you say a group of folks, I can't say yes, I can't say no. There's probably a lot of people from Pro Kids who gave money, I'm not sure.
"The best way to answer your question is that there are many people that were probably solicited for funds. For you to ask me right now, as I'm standing outside a restroom, if I remember one particular group or individual, I can't answer that. I guess what I can do is check and let you know."
In any case, Madaffer insists, there was no linkage or coercion involving the contributions and his support of the Pro Kids block-grant proposal. "No, no, no. I've supported Pro Kids for years. They're a great program. Any program that helps the youth of San Diego is a program that I'm interested in helping out."
He adds that he was also not sure of the source of the personal funds he loaned to his campaign. "The thing I do remember is probably from my American Express investment brokerage account, where that money came from."
Wright says he has been successfully working city hall's block-grant system for years on behalf of Pro Kids. Under a city council policy adopted in June 1996, the council splits the annual federal block-grant allotment into two portions. Forty percent is earmarked for citywide projects, such as street and sewer improvements. The remaining 60 percent is parceled out by council district, allowing each councilmember to wield virtual veto power over which organizations and projects receive funding.
Insiders know it therefore helps for groups to maintain a friendly relationship with each council representative. Outspoken political foes of incumbent councilmembers need not bother to apply, council observers who are familiar with the process agree. The block-grant awards, coupled with election of councilmembers by district, enacted by San Diego voters in 1988, has given individual councilmembers enormous power within their districts, which is leveraged by them to gain favor with various constituencies. The competition for funding is intense. Last year, more than 200 groups, seeking a total of $74 million, vied for a share of the more than $11 million of new block-grant money distributed by the council.
Over the years, Wright says, Pro Kids has received at least a half million dollars of city funding, and as a result of his lobbying efforts, he has become a skilled grants seeker. This year, he says, Pro Kids is taking its case for funding to two other councilmembers as well as Madaffer.
"We've made block-grant applications to three different city council people because of the area we serve in their districts. We have made them to Toni Atkins and George Stevens and Jim Madaffer. They are all up for consideration; they won't vote on them until April or May.
"The whole is about $180,000 from all three different districts. That would be to improve the golf course. The golf course had not had any substantial work done on it in many, many years, and what we want to do is to upgrade the facility so that the children who play in our program will have a competitive golf course, so when they go other places they will be competitive.
"We have raised through the Building Industry Association shares for kids; we raised over $1.7 million in private funds and built the brand-new clubhouse and learning center on that program. So we have not just been asking for money from the city. Over 125 businesses donated money, time, materials, and work to build a $1.7 million clubhouse and computer learning center at private expense. So we think we have a very good public/private relationship going on here."
According to figures supplied by Wright, Pro Kids receives a total of about $1.1 million of revenue each year in grants, donations, and income from special events such as golf tournaments and dinners. Government's contribution is $265,000, and individuals and foundations contribute $507,000. The group spends $537,261 on salaries, with the balance going toward items such as golf-course maintenance, travel, scholarships, and fundraising overhead.
The $179,400 in block-grant funds requested in the currently pending block-grant application would be used to pay for part of the $931,500 golf-course renovation project, Wright says. In addition to that block-grant contribution, another $250,000 of block-grant money left over from previous years would be used, as well as a $200,000 grant from the United States Golf Association and $127,000 worth of artificial turf from the Nike corporation.
Wright, who has become a wealthy man by pioneering "commercial corrections facilities" — otherwise known as private prisons — outlined his personal history during testimony in a 1997 court hearing: "I arrived in San Diego in 1961 with the San Diego Chargers, played nine years with San Diego and four years with Cincinnati," Wright told a hearing officer. "I maintained my home here in San Diego the whole time I was in Cincinnati, and my family and I commuted — not commuted, spent half the year in Ohio and half a year here.
"After my playing career, I got into the agent business. I was an agent for professional athletes for over 17 years and, in 1986, started Pacific Furlough Facility. And the purpose of that was to house and rehabilitate low-risk offenders assigned by the court in lieu of serving time in the county jail.
"Subsequently, we obtained a federal contract with the Bureau of Prisons, and we've been — in fact, we're in our seventh year of contracting with the Bureau of Prisons. We also work with the INS, Border Patrol, Federal Pre-Trial. July 1, two years ago, we successfully bid the County Work Furlough Facility for the Board of Supervisors, and we are operating that facility under the guidance and jurisdiction of the San Diego Probation Department.