San Diego The Jerry Sanders campaign website currently touts a favorable poll conducted by national pollster Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin and Associates. A link on the site says that the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation "released" the poll as an independent survey.
This information did not surprise Dave Stutz. In September 2003, when he was a deputy district attorney, he investigated Sycuan's campaign contributions in the 2002 election cycle. Stutz, who retired from the district attorney's office a year ago, cut his teeth in campaign law enforcement in the late 1960s when, as a federal agent, he investigated the political money scandals of C. Arnholt Smith, John Alessio, and Yellow Cab.
Sycuan's activities in the 2002 election were brought to Stutz's attention by a friend in the registrar of voters office. Examining California secretary of state records, the friend noticed that Sycuan had donated $8000 to San Diego County supervisor Bill Horn. "You can only give $500 to a candidate in a county election," says Stutz. "So when my friend called Sycuan and told them their donation was illegal, they said they made a mistake. The next day they filed an amendment, and now the $8000 didn't go to Bill Horn, it went to a pollster named Competitive Edge."
"I was the district attorney's investigator for campaign law," Stutz continues. "Bonnie Dumanis got elected and made me the man." Stutz took a look for himself at the secretary of state's records. And there he saw not only the money that went to Horn but $15,000 Sycuan said it donated to Bill Kolender's reelection campaign for sheriff. "So I called Competitive Edge to see the bills," he says. The president of the company referred Stutz to the company's lawyer, who said he would not release the information. " 'You can't tell the district attorney you won't answer questions,' " Stutz says he replied. " 'We'll find a way to make sure you do.'
"One day I called Sycuan and asked a tribal vice president, Adam Day, about the $15,000 check to Kolender. 'That would be in excess of what the law allows you to donate,' I told him. 'Oh, it must be a mistake; I'll get back to you,' Day said. That was eleven o'clock in the morning," says Stutz. "Two hours later I got called into Bonnie Dumanis's office and was told to stop the investigation."
At this point Stutz was also looking into a political-campaign complaint that San Marcos councilman Lee Thibadeau had filed with the district attorney's office. Thibadeau alleged that Home Federal Corporation had spent more than the city's $3000 campaign-contribution limit to pay for Competitive Edge polls used by two San Marcos city council candidates and one mayoral candidate. Home Federal supported Mark Rozmus, Pia Harris-Ebert, and Michael Sannella, politicians who favored a higher building density on Home Federal's 1920-acre residential development, San Elijo Hills.
"I am not antidevelopment," Thibadeau tells me by phone. "But I did fight the way the one huge developer of San Elijo Hills was throwing its weight around in our community. The day after the 2002 election, so it wouldn't seem only like campaign rhetoric, I complained to the district attorney's office about how the developer's candidates benefited from the so-called independent expenditures that purchased the polls."
What Thibadeau calls "independent-contribution coordination" is a common practice in political campaigns in San Diego County, he says. The coordinator in the San Elijo Hills case, he maintains, was political consultant Tom Shepard. Shepard not only promotes development projects for Home Federal but also managed the Rozmus, Harris-Ebert, and Sannella campaigns.
"But my complaint to the district attorney's office didn't get far," Thibadeau says, "because they told us that we didn't have strong enough penalties on the books in San Marcos to make pursuing the case worthwhile."
But Dave Stutz never entirely abandoned the campaign cases. "The problem is," he says, "that going over campaign-contribution limits is only a misdemeanor. But conspiracy to break campaign laws is a felony. Up in San Marcos, Tom Shepard had a client who is Home Federal. Tom Shepard also has three people running for office who are clients. So right now the triangle is Home Federal, Tom Shepard, and the politicians running for office. Their interests are interlocked.
"When a candidate runs for office, one of the first things he needs is a poll," Stutz continues. "Can I win, and if so, what are my strengths, what are my opponent's weaknesses? Standard stuff, but expensive -- $10,000, $15,000. If you, the corporation, pay for a poll and give it to the political consultant for your candidates, it's the same thing as making a contribution. Except that you're saying it's independent, and it's not independent. And since the money exceeds campaign-contribution limits, it's a crime. Well, that's what they did."
Stutz says that in the spring of 2003, he and several other people in the district attorney's office persuaded Bonnie Dumanis to reconsider the investigation into Sycuan's excessive contributions to the Kolender and Horn campaigns. To look into those cases and the similar one in San Marcos, Stutz then convened a grand jury, which eventually produced a report. But in the meantime, Stutz retired from the district attorney's office. Several months ago he called his old colleagues in the department to ask how the investigation was going. He was told that it had been dropped again.
"But the grand jury report is still there in the office," says Stutz.
Tom Shepard is currently managing the Jerry Sanders campaign for mayor. When I told Stutz about Sycuan's Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin and Associates poll on the Sanders website, Stutz remarked, "Two to one it will show up [in Sycuan's reporting] as an independent expenditure."