Michael Schlesinger of Beverly Hills has a big-money thing for San Diego politics, but that's about the only thing known about the mysterious money man and the source of his cash, most famous here for dumping chicken manure over an Escondido golf course in an ongoing grudge match with neighbors opposed to his development plans.
Schlesinger’s latest big-money foray into the city's rough-and-tumble political scene: $30,000 for San Diego's GOP Lincoln Club, divided equally between two finance committees established by the Republican business and real estate lobby to back city-council hopefuls Chris Cate and Lorie Zapf.
Where is Schlesinger’s cash coming from and why is he giving so much to each of the Republican candidates?
Cate, a staffer for the lobbying group known as the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, moved from Carlsbad into the city's sixth city council district and declared his candidacy there last April.
A longtime downtown lobbyist, Cate has been a city-council staffer for now-mayor Kevin Faulconer and once worked for a Washington D.C. lobbying shop. Incumbent Zapf, whose residence was redistricted out of her sixth district political base, declared for reelection in the newly drawn second.
The Lincoln Club, famous for its high-style take-no-prisoners hit-piece take-downs of both Republican-turned-Democrat Nathan Fletcher and Democratic city councilman David Alvarez during their failed bids for San Diego mayor, has set up separate independent expenditure committees for Cate and Zapf, into which its financial angels, largely business and real estate development interests, are pouring equal amounts of big money.
In a premier year for money-laundering allegations about a Mexican national charged with laying out big money for fallen mayor Bob Filner and incumbent district attorney Bonnie Dumanis, Schlesinger has managed to keep the source of his cash largely under the radar, though earlier this year he received a warning letter from the state's Fair Political Practices Commission about disguised reporting of previous political gifts.
As first reported here in December, the Lincoln Club and county Republicans falsely declared that $37,000 in cash had come from Touchstone Golf, a Texas golf-course management company — the money ultimately traced to Schlesinger.
After an investigation, California's Fair Political Practices Commission sent Schlesinger's lawyers a warning letter, advising them that he and his development corporation had "violated the Act because its contributions were made in the name of Touchstone Golf rather than the true source and also because three required Late Contribution Reports were not timely filed." The commission staff levied no fine but warned Schlesinger not to launder campaign cash again.
The Los Angeles developer's latest contributions to the Cate and Zapf Lincoln Club efforts were disclosed in a May 2 filing with San Diego's city clerk; the funds came from "Michael Schlesinger and Related Entities."
The identities of the "related entities" remain thus far undisclosed, leaving local political watchers to guess about the ultimate source of the cash and possible agenda behind it.
According to the website of Cambra Realty, his investment company on North Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills, “Schlesinger is a real estate entrepreneur and investment expert with more than fifteen years of experience focused on Southern California’s dynamic office market.”
“Prior to founding Cambra Realty, Michael oversaw the acquisition, financing and management of a 1.5 million-square-foot portfolio of distinct, landmark office properties for Mani Brothers, a leading, privately held real estate investment firm.”
Public records and news coverage show that Schlesinger has been closely involved with New York investment advisor Angelo Gordon & Co., which seeks “to generate absolute returns with low volatility by exploiting inefficiencies in selected markets and capitalizing on situations that are not in the mainstream of investment opportunities,” its website says.
“Our opportunistic real estate strategy focuses on properties where a great deal of repositioning and renovation is usually required to stabilize the asset and which target a higher rate of return than our more conservative core plus real estate strategy.”