— Ex-Democratic state senator Steve Peace kicked off his drive to remodel the San Diego waterfront last week by insisting that his boss, Padres owner John Moores, had no secret plan to oust downtown rival Doug Manchester as developer of the Navy Broadway Complex. Maybe not, but there are plenty of signs that the oft-mysterious Moores is roiling downtown's dark waters of cash and politics. And the appearance by county supervisor Ron Roberts at the event, held at the bayside Holiday Inn, did nothing to dispel suspicion. Roberts is a big Padres fan and baseball memorabilia collector whose free rides aboard Moores's private jet cost him votes in his failed bid for mayor against Dick Murphy in 2000.

The intrigue is also being fueled by Peace's involvement in a small nonprofit corporation, the California Independent Voter Project, whose website says it was established as "a non-partisan, non-political organization dedicated to better informing voters on important public policy issues, and to encouraging non-partisan voters to participate in the electoral process." According to the site, Peace's just-announced "visionary plan to improve the waterfront of downtown San Diego" is one of three "topics we are currently following"; the other two are the federal Alternative Minimum Tax and "protecting your personal privacy and information."

Peace is described on the site as chairman of the board, which also includes Linda Mitrovich, sister-in-law of City Club proprietor George Mitrovich, both of whom came under heavy fire in 2002 when it was revealed that they had been paid by the Metropolitan Water District of Los Angeles to quietly propagandize against San Diego's plans for an Imperial Valley water deal. The only other boardmember listed is David Takashima, Peace's onetime chief of staff and prodigious political fund-raiser who later went to work for Pacific Gas & Electric after he had helped Peace and former employer Southern California Edison craft the notorious 1996 state utility deregulation bill that critics said allowed Enron and others to manipulate the market and led to soaring energy prices.

According to state records, the voter project was incorporated last May 3; Takashima was listed as president; the address was given as 1115 11th Street, Suite 100, in Sacramento. That also happens to be the headquarters of KP Public Affairs, the lobbying firm where Takashima has worked since 2004. According to the firm's website, Takashima "has assisted clients in the areas of public utilities, state budgetary issues and infrastructure. His clients have included SBC, Southern California Edison, City of Millbrae, and the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association."

KP's lobbying filing with the secretary of state lists yet another KP customer: JMI, Inc., a Houston-based holding company owned by John Moores. According to a disclosure form dated last May 15 and signed by Peace as "senior advisor" to JMI, "KP Advocates" was retained for its assistance in "supporting legislative initiatives to help California's business climate." The effective date of the agreement was listed as March 27.

Both Peace and other representatives of Moores have repeatedly said the influential Padres owner was not interested in bidding for the Navy Broadway Complex, an opportunity created by the federal government's base-closing process. But as previously reported here, another Moores entity, JMI Realty of Del Mar, hired Wayne Berman and Stewart Hall of the Federalist Group, LLC, on September 30, 2005, to lobby Congress and the president regarding "base closure and realignment issues," paying them a total of $160,000. That assignment ended last April 1, according to federal disclosure filings, the day after rival Manchester was awarded rights to the Broadway complex.

Asked at the event a week ago Tuesday who was backing his independent voter efforts, Peace said that "a lot of folks" had contributed money to the group and specifically named the big drug firm of Eli Lilly. Because it was incorporated less than a year ago, the voter project has not yet been required to file a Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service disclosing how much it has raised and spent. Even when it does file, federal law does not require donors, whose contributions are tax exempt, to be identified, thus providing the group, which is said to have sought status as a 501(c)(4) "social welfare organization," cover against detailed financial scrutiny. According to the IRS website, under the law such a group "may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity."

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