On the third day of Christmas, our distinguished daily paper's Sunday edition brought us a mystery.

Do you know who the San Diego Foundation is and why it wants our money?

I don't.

On the front page of the paper that morning, there was a nice article telling us that the San Diego Foundation plans to hold a hundred or more townhall-type meetings around San Diego county. These meetings are to gather information from us ordinary folk about what we are looking for in urban planning here in San Diego.

I assume this is about urban planning because I don't see the big investment dollars in this town trying to turn San Diego County into a huge wildlife preserve in its natural state.

In addition to the front page article, there was also a page 3 local news full page ad from the San Diego Foundation. The only contact point was at the bottom of the page, for people who want to give money. Personally, I like to know who is getting it first before I give anything.

When I tried looking up the foundation's web site, I accidentally typed in an extra 's' in the URL and got a web page from 2006: http://sdfoundations.org/. At the bottom of the page was a mention of "The San Diego Foundation", so it looked like it belonged to the people who paid for the local news ad and who were interviewed for the front page article.

The web page was an ad for "San Diego Funder's Online Directory", searchable only by subscription.

Subscriptions are $200, in advance.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding pay-in-advance scams, "An advance fee scheme occurs when the victim pays money to someone in anticipation of receiving something of greater value, such as a loan, contract, investment, or gift, and then receives little or nothing in return.

The FBI continues: "The variety of advance fee schemes is limited only by the imagination of the con artists who offer them. They may involve the sale of products or services, the offering of investments, lottery winnings, 'found money,' or many other 'opportunities.' Clever con artists will offer to find financing arrangements for their clients who pay a 'finder's fee' in advance. They require their clients to sign contracts in which they agree to pay the fee when they are introduced to the financing source. Victims often learn that they are ineligible for financing only after they have paid the 'finder' according to the contract. Such agreements may be legal unless it can be shown that the 'finder' never had the intention or the ability to provide financing for the victims."

At http://www.sdfoundation.org/, I found a 2009 web site which advertises its ability to manage other people's foundations. This appears to allow the individual foundation owners the ability to sidestep certain federal restriction on fund raising by partnering with The San Diego Foundation, which goes to the sophistication of the outfit.

In any case, the San Diego Foundation is sophisticated enough to not publish up front the names of any of its board members on the website. After some considerable digging, I did manage to locate a copy of the foundations 2008 annual report, where a list of its board of governors can be found in the back pages. In any case, the average person who goes to either of the 2006 or 2009 web sites will not find enough information there to distinguish the site from an FBI-defined advance pay scam.

Not unless you pay $200 up front first.

The whole point of this exercise was to introduce most of us who have never heard of the San Diego Foundation to the people want us to tell the foundation that their plans for San Diego's future are OK by us. As far as I am concerned, it's just another layer on our Redevelopment Authority AKA city council scheme of operating independent corporations as local redevelopment agencies, with the usual implications for avoiding state open meeting laws until favorable developer reports suddenly appear before our city council members in session.

I'm thinking about emailing the 2008 annual report to Matt Potter, to see if he can recognize any of the names named. If he hasn't seen it already, then he may be amused by the categorization of the local public utility and its corporate owner as contributors-of-note.

On the Second Day of Christmas...

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