Before his fall into ignominy and out of a job as a result of a sexual harassment scandal, ex–San Diego Democratic mayor Bob Filner raised a ruckus among the local Republican establishment when, as one of his first acts in office, he fired the city's contract lobbyists, Washington's Patton Boggs and Sacramento's Sloat Higgins Jensen & Associates.
Ex-GOP assemblyman Jeff Marston of San Diego, who contracted with Sloat Higgins, was also let go.
U-T San Diego took the move especially hard, reporting in a January 25 news story, "The abrupt dismissals leave the city without an important voice in both capitals right when the first round of budgets and legislative priorities are being crafted."
Four days later, the paper followed up with an editorial, headlined "Insolence at City Hall."
Beyond [Filner’s] own flawed process in keeping the council in the dark, the firing of the lobbyist firms leaves the city with no voice at all in Sacramento or Washington at the very time that crucial decisions are being made in both capitals that will significantly affect the city.
No mention was made in either piece about the lobbyists' work on behalf of the city regarding the so-called Navy Broadway Complex, a giant commercial real estate project to be developed on federal land at the foot of Broadway downtown by U-T publisher and hotel mogul Douglas Manchester.
Once Filner was out of the way in August, Democratic city councilman and acting mayor Todd Gloria, closely identified with the city's hotel lobby, quickly moved to rehire the lobbyists.
According to state disclosure records, Sloat Higgins, terminated by Filner on January 7 of this year, was again retained on October 7.
In a September 25 "81 Days of Progress" report, Gloria wrote:
I’m pleased to report that we now have lobbying firms to represent the city’s interests in Washington, D.C. and Sacramento.
We have signed contracts with the firm of Patton Boggs to lobby in D.C. and the firm of Sloat, Higgins, Jensen & Associations to lobby in Sacramento. These contracts will run until the end of the current fiscal year or until we complete the RFP process for bidding out these contracts, whichever comes first.
The contract for Patton Boggs is capped at $135,000 and the Sloat Higgins contract is capped at $126,000. I will be meeting with Patton Boggs next week when I head back to D.C. for three days with the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Now comes word via the Los Angeles Times that Sloat has been accused in a lawsuit, filed on Christmas Eve, of directing thousands of dollars of illegal campaign contributions and gifts from its clients to California politicos.
According to the court papers, company founder Kevin Sloat, who was once an aide to former Gov. Pete Wilson, also improperly gave gifts to legislators, instructing that no written record of them be kept.
The allegations are made by Rhonda Smira, a former employee of Sloat's firm. She contends that she was fired in late 2012 because she protested that Sloat's practices were illegal and says Sloat falsely accused her of theft.
The paper reports that Sloat did not directly respond to the charges, but that a media consultant to the firm issued a statement saying Smira was under investigation by Sacramento authorities on unspecified charges.
"We are not at all surprised that the plaintiff, a former bookkeeper for the firm, has resorted to such a desperate legal maneuver," the statement said.
In her lawsuit, the Times story says, Smira alleges that "Sloat and his firm routinely broke state political law over the last decade, arranging private dinners, doling out floor tickets to Sacramento Kings basketball games and passes for San Francisco Giants baseball games, and setting up golf outings."
Smira, who now runs a consulting firm that specializes in campaign finance reporting and event hosting, says in the suit that she was ordered not to provide receipts for the gifts; that way, recipients could avoid disclosing the transactions on financial reports required by the state.
The lawsuit says Sloat told her: "If I don't report and there is no written record, and they don't report it, then it didn't happen."
She also says it was her job to arrange elaborate fundraisers for California lawmakers at Sloat's showcase home in Sacramento, stocked with cognac and imported cigars and served by private caterers.
The lawsuit goes on to claim that "Sloat's lobbying clients were expected to attend and make political donations," the paper reports.
"A typical evening at [Sloat's] mansion would result in between $10,000 and $50,000 for an elected official," the lawsuit states, and in return the firm's clients "were promised exclusive access to the governor, legislators or candidates."
The lawsuit alleges that 37 lawmakers and an undisclosed number of other public officials received "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in illegal contributions this way.