San Diego To Hell and back Everyone knows that Republicans are into faith-based initiatives, but what was a $5000 contribution from the Stickel Christian Foundation doing on the campaign-disclosure report of San Diego's Lincoln Club, that bastion of pragmatic GOP fat cats? "An administrative breakdown," says Tom Stickel, who with wife Tracy set up the nonprofit, tax-exempt charity back in 1987, ostensibly to assist deserving children with scholarships and summer camps. "I take a fair share of the responsibility," added Stickel, a Coronado Cays resident and longtime local financier who has been active in Republican politics here for more than two decades and whose latest business endeavor is organizing a new Coronado bank. The story begins on February 2 of last year, when, according to a state campaign-finance report filed by the Lincoln Club, the club received the donation from Stickel's foundation. Harry "Hap" Brahams, foundation president and retired minister of La Jolla Presbyterian Church, says he cut the check, made out to "Lincoln Club," on January 30.
"Tom called me long-distance in January and told me to write out that check," recalls Brahams, who now lives in Peoria, Arizona. "He said it was for a scholarship fund to honor Clair
Burgener at an event." In a follow-up interview, Brahams amended that account by saying there had been a conference call between himself, Stickel, Tracy Stickel, and other members of the foundation board. "Tom made an oral report, and we approved it. He took the minutes. I don't have them."
Brahams says that the foundation donates an average of about $20,000 a year to scholarships and related activities. But its most recently available financial disclosure filed with the Internal Revenue Service shows that in 2003, the foundation made only $11,000 in charitable contributions: $10,000 went to Uplift/Kids at Heart, which Brahams says is a tutoring and academic enrichment-related group, and the other $1000 was paid to the Catfish Club, which holds monthly luncheons and political forums for business and civic types in the Southeast San Diego studios of TV station KGTV. Brahams himself received $9000 and his wife Donna, who is listed as vice president of the charity, collected $3000. Stickel says that the foundation's most recent charitable contribution, $10,000, was made anonymously to a group called "Camp WAMP" (Wheelchair Adventure Mountain Programs), a Coronado-based charity that sponsors a summer camp in the Sierra Nevada for disabled children. His wife Tracy is on the group's board.
Stickel says that he recalls the events leading to the Lincoln Club contribution a bit differently than Brahams does: "Hap thought it would go to scholarships; I thought it would go to Alzheimer's research." It happens that the Lincoln Club did hold a banquet in honor of Clair Burgener, the ex-GOP congressman now suffering from Alzheimer's. Burgener and Stickel were once associates in a firm called TCS Enterprises. That relationship drew scrutiny after it came to light that Lincoln Savings and Loan -- controlled by the infamous Charles Keating, later jailed in connection with the S&L's collapse -- had purchased TCS stock worth $2.89 million. One federal regulator claimed in congressional testimony that the investment was a "bailout" of TCS. Another TCS executive, Larry Taggart, was Governor George Deukmejian's top S&L regulator before leaving in January 1985 to take a job at TCS; the Lincoln Savings investment came three weeks later. Critics alleged that Taggart had issued rulings favorable to Lincoln Savings. Stickel, Burgener, and Taggart denied any quid pro quo.
A federal campaign-finance disclosure filed by the Lincoln Club shows that the Burgener dinner, held December 11, 2003, at La Jolla's Hyatt Regency hotel, generated $10,000 for the Alzheimer's Association. Expenses included $45,000 for the hotel, $8000 for printing, and $4000 for video. Other dinner proceeds went to cover the club's overhead, such as executive salaries. Stickel says he can't account for why the Stickel Christian Foundation's contribution was made more than a month after the banquet if it was intended to go to Alzheimer's research. "All I remember was that when the Lincoln Club called, I said I would make a contribution in Clair's name." He says that Allan Royster, a club member, made the solicitation. "He said, 'It's not going to the Lincoln Club.' I thought it was going to Alzheimer's. It was definitely not our intent to make a political contribution." Royster said he had solicited Stickel for a contribution to the Burgener dinner in November 2003. "To put on a banquet with a lobster dinner is extremely expensive. I have no clue as to how the money was accounted for. That's not my job." Adding to the intrigue is the fact that on January 30, 2004 -- the very day that Brahams says he wrote the foundation's $5000 check to the Lincoln Club's state committee -- the club's federal committee contributed exactly the same amount to the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign.
"I won't accuse them of inappropriate receipt of monies," Stickel says about the Lincoln Club. "I should have insisted that the check be made out directly to the Alzheimer's Association."