San Diego Three decades ago, Democrat Richard Silberman was a high-ranking member of San Diego's largely Republican political domain. A San Diego State grad who dabbled in a long series of financial schemes before hitting the jackpot with the late Robert O. Peterson in their Jack in the Box hamburger chain, Silberman was one of Republican mayor Pete Wilson's chief advisors. Then he jumped ship to work for Democratic governor Jerry Brown. Later he married GOP city councilwoman Susan Golding, bankrolling her bruising electoral battle for county supervisor over onetime Silberman protégée Lynn Schenk. It all came crashing down in August 1990 when Silberman pled guilty to federal drug-money-laundering charges stemming from an FBI sting 18 months previously. A year later, in the midst of her first San Diego mayoral campaign, Golding filed for divorce. With Silberman still serving out his 46-month prison sentence at the federal lockup in Boron, his son Jeff was tasked with issuing his dad's apology to the future mayor: "Unfortunately, I was not always truthful with her regarding critical and vital aspects of my life, and I know I am responsible for the changes in our relationship."
It was the end of the line for the Silberman family's political career, at least in public. Dick's younger son Craig, who once worked for powerful Democratic assembly speaker Willie Brown and had considered a run for city council, became a municipal lobbyist. Jeff, who is said to have an interest in the publishing world and, according to corporate records, once represented Penthouse founder Bob Guccione, is an attorney who now works with his mother-in-law, Pauline Foster, helping to run the family's far-flung real estate investment business. His brother-in-law is ex-San Diego school superintendent Alan Bersin, another nominal Democrat who is Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's secretary of education. Jeff's most prominent public role of late has been as a boardmember of the Jewish Community Foundation.
Then on Monday of last week, Jeff found himself suddenly thrust front and center onto the local political stage. According to a stipulation filed with the City of San Diego's Ethics Commission, Silberman and Foster business partner Morgan Dene Oliver made large contributions to benefit the campaign of GOP mayoral candidate Jerry Sanders using an Orange County political vendor as a diversion. Silberman made his $1000 contribution on July 20, 2005. Oliver gave his on July 21. Five of Oliver's development partnerships each kicked in $1000. In all, $18,000 was laundered through a political committee called Continuing the Republican Revolution. On July 22, the group mailed 39,000 copies of its Sanders endorsement to voters. The flier also backed a ballot measure to keep the cross atop Mt. Soledad, as well as a plan to curtail illegal immigration from Mexico, and, for good measure, featured a photo of George W. Bush.
According to the stipulation he signed with the Ethics Commission, Scott Hart, the Orange County political consultant who put out the piece, originally argued that it was a slate mailer and thus exempt from city campaign-disclosure laws. But the stipulation says that wasn't true: "The subject mailer did not qualify as a slate mailer because it did not support or oppose a total of four candidates and/or measures." Caught in the act, Hart agreed to pay a $17,000 fine, but none of the other players was sanctioned. Ethics Commission director Stacey Fulhorst says she has no evidence that any of the donors to the piece, including Jeff Silberman, all hardened veterans of San Diego's political-money derby, had the slightest inkling that the scheme they contributed to was in any way illegal. Sanders himself also pled ignorance.