Because of a gaping loophole in San Diego's campaign disclosure law, it won't be until the end of July that the public learns the complete identities of the big-money donors behind a minimum-wage proposal currently gathering signatures in front of local supermarkets.
That's when a campaign committee calling itself "Families Working Toward Financial Freedom," set up on April 28, according to a document posted online by the city clerk's office, will be required to file a mid-year financial report.
Not to be confused with an effort led by Democrats including city councilman Todd Gloria to hike the minimum wage, the campaign committee's funding drive is led by T.J. Zane, the ex–Lincoln Club chief credited with masterminding the GOP group's volley of take-no-prisoners hit pieces that took down Republican-turned-Democrat Nathan Fletcher and Democratic city councilman David Alvarez in the most recent mayor’s race.
The committee's treasurer is listed as April Boling, a onetime city-council candidate, accountant, and longtime Lincoln Club treasurer. About two weeks before Zane's committee made its filing, a minimum-wage initiative widely viewed as a counter to the Democrats' plan was submitted to the city clerk by former city-council candidate Blanca Lopez-Brown.
Zane didn't return repeated phone calls regarding the matter. An opponent of the Lopez-Brown measure, Peter Brownell of the Center for Policy Initiatives, was not as reticent, dispatching a statement in which he blasted the initiative as a "sham."
"This measure clearly exists to create confusion about the real minimum wage initiative and split the vote. Even with strong voter support, two competing ballot measures usually both fail, subverting the will of the voters.
"The backers of this signature drive are hoping that by deceiving signers and buying their way onto the ballot, they can defeat the movement for an increased minimum wage in San Diego that helps hard-working families meet the area’s high cost of living."
Though San Diego law doesn't require funders of the signature drive to reveal their identities until after the deadline for the measure's qualification, some limited information regarding likely suspects has been oozing onto the record in disclosures legally required of other political committees.
Last week, Boling, who in addition to her Lincoln Club duties is treasurer for the San Diego Lodging Industry Association's political action committee, filed a statement on behalf of that group showing that on May 8 it was the source of $9900 to promote an "Ordinance to Increase Minimum Wage; Jurisdiction: City of San Diego."
Recipient of the funds was listed as Zane’s committee.
Cash for the PAC's contribution came from some of the city's wealthiest hotel and bar owners, including Bartell Hotels, which gave a total of $20,000 from March 31 through May 6, and Atlas Hotels, which came up with $5000 on April 9. Downtown's Hard Rock Hotel kicked in $2500 on March 28, and the La Jolla Torrey Pines Hilton gave $3940 on April 18. The Bahia Hotel, owned by the Evans family, which employs Gloria political ally and funder Robert Gleason as chief financial officer, gave $5000 on March 31.
Besides its minimum-wage contribution, the committee gave $30,000 to the county Republican Party, which is backing the cause of city councilwoman Lorie Zapf and fellow GOP candidate Chris Cate, a lobbyist for the downtown business group calling itself the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.
The men behind the Bartell and Atlas hotel operations were the chief instigators of last year's failed legal battle against then-mayor Bob Filner to force him to sign a lucrative city funding deal that, they argued, had been promised them by GOP ex-mayor Jerry Sanders, a beneficiary of their political largesse.
Richard Bartell, whose father made the family fortune in the radio business, presides over a local lodging, dining, and entertainment empire, much of it on leased public lands, including the famous Humphreys by the Bay concert venue.
Atlas — which owns the Town and Country Hotel in Mission Valley — is run by C. Terry Brown, whose father was a onetime associate of late disgraced banker C. Arnholt Smith and his protégé Johnny Alessio.
Brown is a widely venerated San Diego political power player who, with wife Charlene, paid a $15,000 fine to settle charges brought by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission in 2003 that the couple failed to timely report $296,491 in campaign contributions made to the Yes on E, "Taxpayer Protection Act" campaign.