When did he dine and whom did he dine with? That variation on the famous query from Senator Howard Baker about the culpability of Richard Nixon can today be asked — and now answered — about San Diego city councilman Ralph Inzunza. There's never been any question as to whether and how Inzunza dines. Virtually every business day at the stroke of 12 noon, the 34-year-old councilman can be seen strolling out of his 12th-story city-council office, heading off to one of a chosen few downtown eateries and watering holes, such as Dobson's and the Grant Grill. Two hours later, he returns. But there has always been a nagging curiosity about what goes on in between.
That hunger to know was at least partially satisfied late last month, when Inzunza, feeling the heat generated by the May 14 raid by FBI agents on the city hall offices he shares with council colleagues Michael Zucchet and Charles Lewis, responded to media requests by releasing what he said were two years' worth of personal appointment calendar entries. Widely reported have been the eight appointments shown on Inzunza's calendar for Lance Malone, the ex-Las Vegas cop and lobbyist for the Vegas-based Cheetahs strip club empire, believed to be the target of a federal racketeering probe into influence peddling and bribery of local officials.
Responding to questions about the meetings with Malone, Inzunza attorney Michael Pancer, who has represented other noted officials under a cloud of malfeasance, including ex-mayor Roger Hedgecock, explained that having lunch with favor-seekers has always been a part of the councilman's job. "He met with Malone a number of times, and that was so Malone could lobby him," Pancer was quoted by the Union-Tribune as saying. "What he does for a good part of his days is meet with persons who have interests in legislation, including lobbyists, and he visits with them and he is lobbied by them."
The calendars bear Pancer out. If the entries are to be believed, during his tenure on the city council Inzunza has been forever on the move, dashing from one lunch appointment to the next, spending happy hours at La Gran Tapa, sometimes beating a path to the Barona golf course for a round or two on the greens with the lobbyist for the Indian casino there, or finding his way down to South Bay or up to the once-mobbed-up La Costa Resort for a few chip shots with a big wheel from Sempra Energy, where he formerly worked as a lobbyist himself. Then there is tennis, another sport Inzunza apparently especially enjoys in the company of lobbyists, including attorney John Wertz, who on occasion has also represented councilmembers accused of wrongdoing, including the infamous Valerie Stallings.
Lobbyists have not been Inzunza's only social partners. According to the documents, he has eaten or toasted with a variety of reporters and other media types, many of whom work for the Union-Tribune as columnists and reporters. Financial-disclosure forms previously filed by Inzunza show that they have always picked up the tab. Representatives of Mike McKinnon, owner of KUSI-TV and the would-be developer of a block of land in the city-controlled downtown redevelopment area, have also spent quality time with the councilman, his calendar shows. In addition, besides receiving plenty of early-morning TV coverage by the station's Rod Luck, according to the record, Inzunza and friends booked a tour of the station itself, after McKinnon's project was approved by the city council.
The definition of who is a lobbyist in San Diego has been somewhat clouded by San Diego city attorney Casey Gwinn, who several years back ruled that Padres owners John Moores and Larry Lucchino didn't meet the definition because they already had arranged their deal for a new ballpark with the city and thus weren't seeking fresh favors. But, generally speaking, the definition of "lobbyist" is furnished by this definition on the website of the San Diego city clerk:
"Lobbying is direct communication with a City official for the purpose of influencing a municipal decision."
"Direct communication" means "talking to or corresponding with [the official] in a way which does not become part of the record of a public hearing. NOTE: At least one instance of direct communication with a City official is needed before you qualify as a lobbyist.
"'Influencing' means affecting or attempting to affect any action by a City official by any method, including providing information, promoting, supporting, opposing or seeking to modify or delay."
People who thus lobby the city council are required to file a quarterly statement of their lobbying activity, listing what they are lobbying for and whether they paid for meals of the people they lobbied, if the lobbyist meets what is called the "threshold compensation" requirement, which is currently set at $2355 per quarter.
"In determining whether or not you've reached the threshold," the city advises prospective lobbyists, "you must take into account all compensation you've received or become entitled to receive not only for lobbying as it is defined in this brochure, but also for monitoring a municipal decision you're seeking to influence; for preparing testimony and presentations; for attending hearings on a municipal decision you're seeking to influence; for communicating with your client or employer about a municipal decision you're seeking to influence; and for waiting to meet with City officials."
In the case of executives who are not professional lobbyists and who spend only part of their time lobbying the city council on their own behalf, the city's website offers this hypothetical question and answer:
"Q. I'm the CEO of my company, which employs a full-time lobbyist. She is registered with the City. This month we've both been meeting with City staff to discuss a major project we're developing. I also spent some time working with her on a presentation she gave at a committee hearing, then sat in on that hearing while she spoke. Am I a lobbyist?
"A. The test is whether you received the threshold compensation for these activities, each of which is an integral part of influencing a municipal decision. Although your main job at your company is not as a 'lobbyist,' you are performing some of a lobbyist's functions. If your compensation for your 'lobby-like' activities reaches the threshold, then you are required to register."