Self-promotional plans by freshman San Diego city councilman Carl DeMaio, seen by many insiders as the most politically ambitious member of the council since Mayor Pete Wilson first aspired to higher office in the 1970s, have hit a roadblock with the City’s Ethics Commission. In an advice letter released December 16, commission general counsel Alison Adema told DeMaio that he could not use funds from a political committee he controls to pay the costs of virtual district meetings.
“Your office has been approached by a vendor with regard to setting up Telephone Town Hall Meetings as a means of facilitating your communications with constituents,” wrote Adema. “You anticipate sending follow-up letters to constituents who participate in these virtual meetings. Similarly, you hope to create and distribute printed materials to solicit public input on a variety of Citywide and community issues.”
According to the letter, DeMaio wanted money for the effort to come from San Diego Citizens for Accountable Government, described by its website as “a non partisan public policy action committee.” The committee has backed several ballot measures, including the strong mayor initiative and public pension limits. According to federal records, donors in 2005 included $100,000 from Manchester Resorts LP, owned by hotel mogul Doug Manchester, and $15,000 from the Performance Institute, Inc., a consulting firm founded by DeMaio. Disclosure statements on file for the period ending June 30 of last year, the most recent available, show that the committee had $46,800 in cash on hand, all of that derived from a $50,000 no-interest loan DeMaio made to the committee on June 10.
Adema held that because DeMaio controls the committee and he is now on the council, “You may no longer use SDCAG funds to engage in issues advocacy unless such advocacy is truly related to ballot measure activity.” If DeMaio wanted to conduct the virtual meetings, Adema said, he could use funds remaining in his election campaign committee, Reform City Hall with Carl DeMaio. She added that it was okay for DeMaio to use his city staff to distribute printed materials, as long as the documents related “to City issues” and the staffers did not “distribute any political materials that support or oppose a City candidate while on ‘City time.’ ” But the use of any DeMaio intern’s time paid for by San Diego Citizens for Accountable Government “must be related to a proposed or actual ballot measure.”