Walter Mencken 11 a.m., Nov. 27
Transparency lags as GOP fundraisers fan out for anti-Filner drive
City ethics chief says check back next week regarding when and whether special interests will have to disclose cash stake in ousting mayor
Two high-profile voter signature drives in California, one aimed at putting the issue of a new basketball arena on the ballot in Sacramento, the other to recall embattled San Diego Democratic mayor Bob Filner, are casting new light on the often secretive funding of such efforts and their big money special interest backers.
In Sacramento's case, an Orange County political committee calling itself Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods has reportedly used signature gatherers to circulate a petition to put the proposed new Kings arena on the ballot.
But after questions arose as to who is funding the committee, James Lacy, a spokesman for the group told the Sacramento Bee that it had not financed the effort.
"We have not spent any money on this election," Lacy said.
His comments appeared to deepen the mystery of how the petition drive is being funded. In May, Lacy's group announced it was teaming with the Sacramento organization, STOP, on the petition drive. The goal: Forcing a public vote on the $258 million city subsidy for the new Kings arena.
The Orange County group said in May that the campaign would have "the financial and political resources necessary."
This morning the Bee reports that a counter coalition of building contractors and "Kings fans" seeking to build the new arena without a public vote has filed a complaint with the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, "saying the campaign challenging the arena project paid signature gatherers in June but didn't report the expenses in its latest campaign finance disclosures."
Meanwhile, down in San Diego, those behind the effort to recall mayor Filner have reportedly retained the services of a high-dollar team of political professionals, including Rachel Laing, erstwhile media handler for GOP ex-mayor Jerry Sanders and former P.R. staffer for Tom Shepard's Public Policy Strategies, who left her job there a few weeks back in the wake of continuing sexual harassment allegations against Filner.
Until recently, the mayor was one of Shepard's biggest political clients. Shepard also said he was severing his ties to Filner.
"Nobody's doing it from a partisan perspective," U-T San Diego quoted Laing as saying about the Filner recall campaign. "Everybody's desire to give voters a choice on this stems from allegations that the mayor is a sexual predator, and that's not a partisan issue."
U-T reported that the Filner recall effort has also retained the services of Republican campaign finance expert April Boling, a longtime GOP leader, treasurer of the Republican Lincoln Club, and executive board member of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, the downtown business lobbying group closely tied to C. Terry Brown, the wealthy Mission Valley Republican hotel magnate who lost out to Filner in a battle earlier this year over a lucrative city visitor promotion fund.
Rounding out the recall team, the paper reported, is former Sanders fundraiser Jean Freelove .
In May 2007, Freelove was quoted by then-U-T columnist Gerry Braun - later a Sanders aide himself - regarding a claim by Sanders that he couldn’t remember getting a hefty political contribution from Sunroad developer Aaron Feldman.
How could Sanders have completely forgotten dealing with Aaron Feldman, much less the $3,600?
With a little research, I discovered that Feldman had done his best to make a good impression on Sanders. He didn't just contribute money, he held a campaign fundraising lunch for him.
His friends and associates filled the panoramic banquet room at the Island Prime restaurant, which sits on property Sunroad leases on Harbor Island.
In front of a gorgeous view of San Diego Bay, Feldman introduced Sanders to the check-writing crowd that Feldman himself had assembled. He did everything right.
Sanders' fundraiser, Jean Freelove, told me it was entirely possible for Sanders to have forgotten all about it.
“It was very pleasant,” she said of the event. “About 30 people were there. It was a nice lunch, a nice introduction, the mayor went around and shook everyone's hand and said he was glad they were supporting him. I hate to say there was nothing distinctive about it, but there wasn't. You have to remember, he went to 110 events and had 5,500 donors.”
With that kind of fundraising firepower, the Filner recall drive appears to be well on the road to financial success.
But when will it have to reveal the names behind the mega-numbers?
Yesterday we emailed Stacey Fulhorst of the city's ethics commission to find out what the law says about when the citizenry can get hold of the information that will reveal who is who, and who knows who, in the struggle to replace Filner, perhaps with somebody more malleable to whatever special interests put up the most money
In Wall Street talk, it's called "Pay to play."
Even as the recall effort proceeds full speed ahead, it turns out, the matter of full public disclosure is still under consideration.
We are currently conducting research on this issue. It's complicated because state law treats recalls as ballot measure elections, whereas the city treats them as candidate elections.
If you check back with me next week I should have an answer for you.
More like this:
- Aaron Feldman endorses Dumanis — Jan. 25, 2014
- San Diegans could be last to know who's paying for Filner recall — Aug. 16, 2013
- Sheriff reportedly plotting mayor's ouster got funds from Lynch, Blue, hotel interests, report says — Aug. 6, 2013
- More special interest cash rolls into Filner's political fund — July 30, 2013
- Feldman's Gold — June 28, 2007