Democratic Lt. governor Gavin Newsom made some waves here just over a year ago when then–Jerry Sanders media handler Rachel Laing tweeted a link to a letter from Newsom to Milford Wayne Donaldson, advising the state historical preservation officer to lay off criticism of the then-pending Plaza de Panama parking and road plan for Balboa Park. “This is a project with broad local political, philanthropic and community support so it may be more productive to work in collaboration with the project development team to achieve your goal of preserving this historical open-space,” wrote the former mayor of San Francisco. “As the State Historic Preservation Officer, I hope that you will consider these arguments, withdraw your comments, and begin to work in collaboration with the leaders of the Plaza de Panama project.”
Unmentioned in Newsom’s letter was the controversial project’s financial backer and devoted lobbyist, Irwin Jacobs, the Qualcomm billionaire from La Jolla. Also not disclosed was a contribution by Jacobs of $5000 to Newsom’s campaign for lieutenant governor in October 2010. But that turned out to be only the beginning. Exactly a month after Newsom’s letter to Donaldson, Jacobs and his wife Joan kicked in a combined $12,000 to the lieutenant governor’s 2014 reelection campaign fund. In the end, the cash to Newsom, as well as all the other big checks cut by Jacobs on behalf of his pet project, proved to be futile when a superior-court judge ruled the project had been illegally approved by the city council.
As for Newsom, it turns out that not many other denizens of San Diego County were motivated enough last year to further his political career with campaign cash. According to recently filed campaign disclosure data, available online from the California Secretary of State’s office, in addition to Jacobs, the only other five-figure donors were two casino owners: the Viejas Tribal Government ($10,000) and the Pala Band of Mission Indians ($10,000). The Sycuan Indians, another casino-owning tribe, came up with $3000. Lower-level money arrived from Gen-Probe, Inc., and Midland Credit Management, at $2500 each. Lower still was A. Christopher Wahl, a registered city lobbyist with the San Diego influence-peddling boutique of Southwest Strategies, who managed to cough up $1000 on December 3.