Are San Diego’s big media owners working together to build a virtually impregnable political machine?
It’s a question being asked more and more frequently among longtime city hall observers in the wake of political plays by a trio of the city's major newspaper and broadcasting magnates.
Two of the moguls have just cut large checks to Republican causes, which in turn are spreading their substantial wealth to two city-council candidates and incumbent district attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
U-T San Diego owner and real estate developer Douglas Manchester, long a major player in back-room money deals, gave yet another $20,000 to local Republicans on May 15, according to a filing with the state secretary of state's office.
The same day, Michael McKinnon, owner of KUSI TV, gave $5000 each to the Neighborhood Coalition Supporting Chris Cate for Council 2014 and Neighbors United for a Better City Government Supporting Lorie Zapf for Council 2014.
Both of those efforts are operated and bankrolled by the GOP Lincoln Club, responsible for the barrage of hit pieces that helped destroy the mayoral hopes of Republican-turned-Democrat Nathan Fletcher and Democrat David Alvarez.
Complained Paul Jacobs, who at the time was CEO of Qualcomm, for which Fletcher works, "Is the Lincoln Club so desperate and out of constructive ideas that they are resorting to attacks on private employers, forsaking their supposed principles and lying to serve a political agenda?”
Besides Manchester and McKinnon, Elisabeth Kimmel, the mega-millionaire owner of the KFMB TV and radio stations, and a monetary backer of Koch brothers causes through her family foundation, has been accused of banning GOP congressional hopeful Kirk Jorgensen, a rival of fellow Republican congressional candidate Carl DeMaio, from her stations’ broadcasts.
Kimmel helped bankroll DeMaio’s failed mayoral campaign. Like Kimmel, Manchester uses the editorial services of Roger Hedgecock and is a close friend and longtime financial supporter of DeMaio. U-T San Diego has also been aligned with Koch causes.
Last year, U-T San Diego hired Steven Greenhut, then vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, to be its California columnist. Manchester also retained the services of two other Koch-linked editorial employees.
Before departing the Franklin Center to work for Manchester, Greenhut defended its donor-secrecy policy, saying, "Yes, Franklin Center is funded by donors and, no, we do not publish their names to respect their privacy."
"Left-wing journalism enterprises also are funded by donors and often do not publish the names of their donors, but we haven’t seen any reports from [the Columbia Journalism Review] on those groups."
"If you believe that conservative donors undermine our journalism, then surely you must believe that liberal donors undermine the journalism done by those outfits."
Manchester, who is seeking city approval to build a giant condominium and commercial complex on the site of U-T San Diego’s Mission Valley headquarters, sank at least at least $356,000 into the GOP's successful effort to elect Kevin Faulconer mayor earlier this year.
The county Republican Party has been a major donor to the campaigns of Zapf and Cate. In addition, on May 14 the GOP funneled $130,000 into the reelection bid of Dumanis, who is facing off against attorney Robert Brewer in next month's primary election.