It took only a short time for Democrat Juan Vargas to conduct his first San Diego fundraiser as a newly elected Democratic congressman. On March 22, according to an invitation widely circulated here and on Capitol Hill, Vargas threw his “first annual” “Margaritas, Mariachis & Mulligans” fundraiser, teeing off at Mission Valley’s Riverwalk golf course. The per-person tab for golf and booze was listed as $1250. Attendees who went to only the reception paid $250. According to a recent filing with the Federal Election Commission, contributions booked by the campaign that week included $1750 from Mark Arabo, the head of the Neighborhood Market Association, a group representing convenience markets and liquor-store proprietors. In April the market association agreed to pay a $6000 fine to San Diego’s city ethics commission to settle charges it failed to fully disclose so-called robocalls and direct-mail hits it made against Democrat Bob Filner in last year’s mayoral campaign, ultimately won by Filner, a onetime Vargas nemesis.
Other notable San Diego Vargas backers included developer William Ayyad ($2000); real estate man Bernardo Diaz ($800); Sunroad’s Aaron Feldman, developer of that controversial over-height building near Montgomery Field ($500); Fred Maass, the developer caught up in the scandal over so-called opposition research he commissioned against GOP ex-councilman and mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio ($1000); and developer Bruce Tabb ($2500). Political action committees also got in on the action, including the Employees of Northrup Grumman Corporation PAC ($2500); Experian PAC ($1500); Humane Society Legislative Fund PAC ($1000); and Ameripac, a PAC associated with Maryland Democratic congressman Steny H. Hoyer, second-ranking in the House Democratic leadership ($2000).
A great deal of the other PAC cash collected by Vargas came from those associated with the sugar industry. They included the American Crystal Sugar Company PAC ($5000); American Sugar Cane League Political Action Committee ($1000); American Sugarbeet Growers Association PAC ($1000); California Beet Growers Association LTD Political Committee ($500); Great Lakes Sugarbeet Growers PAC ($3000); Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative Sugar PAC ($1000); Snake River Sugar Co. Political Action Committee ($1000); Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative PAC ($2000); and the Western Sugar Cooperative PAC ($3000).
It happens that the sugar producers have been battling against proposals to abolish price supports on the sweet stuff. Pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into its battle, the sugar kings have so far been able to hang on to their subsidies; last week the Senate rejected the reform measure on a 55-45 vote.
Vargas, who sits on the key House Agriculture Committee, wasn’t alone in taking sugar cash. Roll Call noted Monday, June 10, that the American Crystal Sugar Company reported spending $1,004,117 on lobbying during the first quarter of 2013, about $300,000 less than for all of last year. Lawmakers from big sugar-producing states, including liberal Democratic senator Al Franken of Minnesota, have fought off the would-be reform legislation. Senate passage of the farm bill was expected Monday, with the House taking up its final version soon.
Vargas used much of the cash he raised during the first three months of this year to pay down campaign debts. He made a $25,000 payment to the Primacy Group, the political consulting outfit owned by Larry Remer, whose hard-hitting attacks last month against Democratic city-council candidate Dwayne Crenshaw, heavily backed by the Republican Lincoln Club, drew editorial opprobrium from GOP developer Douglas Manchester’s U-T San Diego. Remer worked for labor-backed Democrat Myrtle Cole, who won the Fourth District race.