Garrett Harris 4 p.m., Jan. 16
San Diegans could be last to know who's paying for Filner recall
No limits on amount of recall donations and lack of reporting make for big money mystery and uniquely San Diego-style media and political intrigue
Who is funding the big money recall effort to oust embattled San Diego mayor Bob Filner?
So far, no one is saying, and - unless someone steps forward to sue the city to force greater disclosure - that seems to be the way it will stay.
As reported by the Sacramento Bee, a similar case of hiding political donors there has drawn the interest of California's political watchdog agency, which yesterday sued a Los Angeles firm to force disclosure of the identities of those putting up the money for a putative referendum on public financing of a new basketball arena.
The Fair Political Practices Commission's suit against Loeb & Loeb charged that the high-powered firm has "failed and refused" to report the source of the money, despite warnings that it had violated the Political Reform Act by failing to meet a state financial disclosure deadline.
Petition workers have been in Sacramento since June seeking to collect 22,000 signatures for a proposed June 2014 ballot measure on sports arena subsidies.
The FPPC said in its complaint filed Thursday that Loeb & Loeb's "wrongful conduct will cause great and irreparable harm to the voters of Sacramento by denying them information regarding the source money spent to collect signatures in support of the effort to place the arena financing on the ballot."
"The information regarding the source of the $80,000 payment to Olson may be highly relevant to a citizen's decision whether or not to sign the petition supporting the initiative effort," the complaint reads.
In San Diego, where a recall campaign against Filner has recently taken shape, the public’s window into who is paying for the effort appears even more opaque.
When queried last week about what disclosure provisions would apply to those funding the recall, San Diego ethics commission executive director Stacey Fulhorst said via email that the issue was complex and required time to look into the matter.
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.
When asked yesterday via email for an update, Fulhorst sent a link to a "Fact Sheet on Recall Elections," newly posted on the commission's website.
According to that document:
The City of San Diego treats recall elections as candidate elections, unlike the state, which characterizes such elections as ballot measure elections. For this reason, the City’s laws concerning recall elections differ somewhat from those at the state.
The officeholder who is the subject of the recall and replacement candidates are subject to contribution limits.
On the other hand, committees that make independent expenditures to support or oppose the recall or replacement candidates are not subject to contribution limits.
Such committees include the recall proponents, other committees created to independently support or oppose the recall effort, and committees created to independently support or oppose the candidacy of one or more replacement candidates.
The document is silent about the date by which contributions to the recall signature effort have to be reported.
During a typical election campaign, contributions are required to be disclosed 24 hours after they are made, so that the citizenry may discover who is paying for the effort before they go to the polls.
But Fulhorst said in an August 7 email that it was her office's position that the requirement does not apply to recall signature drives, since they are not technically "elections."
24-hour reporting doesn't kick in until 90 days before an election. Since no election has been called yet, there is no 24-hour filing at this time.
The commission's recall "fact sheet" also says that the 24-hour reporting requirements would be mandated only "if the City Council sets a date for the recall election."
Fulhorst is currently out of the office and won't return until next week, according to her automated email response. We hope to get further details then.
Adding an extra level of intrigue to the story is the involvement of two heavy political hitters who have funding ties to some of the city's biggest media outlets, including San Diego State's public TV and radio stations, heavily backed with cash from Democratic La Jolla billionaire Irwin Jacobs.
His Republican counterpart is real estate developer, hotel mogul, and mega-millionaire Douglas Manchester, who owns U-T San Diego, the newspaper, web, and cable TV media operation that has made it clear it wants Filner out of office.
Both Jacobs and Manchester are longtime Filner foes, though with distinctly differing preferences when it comes to replacing him.
This past April Manchester was accused in an expose done by San Diego State University’s TV station KPBS and a related non-profit called inewsource of discounting 2012 campaign advertising to GOP then-city councilman Carl DeMaio, who was running against Filner for mayor.
This discrepancy — and others discovered by the inewsource and KPBS Investigations Desk — could violate campaign laws.
Filner's former campaign consultant Tom Shepard told the station:
“I’ve seen newspapers and television stations editorialize in favor and against my candidates, and I just kind of accept that as part of the game in political campaigns,” he said.
“I’ve never seen advertising given away to one candidate in preference over another. And my understanding of the state and local campaign laws, it’s not legal to do that.”
Manchester’s partner John Lynch denied the charges, and the FPPC subsequently found that no laws had been violated.
Will either of the city’s top two political guerillas weigh in with their substantial financial resources against Filner?
Rank and file San Diegans could be the last to know.
More like this:
- San Diego ethics commission rejects call to recuse itself — Nov. 6, 2015
- Carl DeMaio paid for polling in possible mayoral run — Sept. 10, 2013
- Emails show top DeMaio operative key to Filner recall — Aug. 26, 2013
- Manchester and Wal-Mart cash to GOP council races obscured by detour through federal campaign fund — Aug. 21, 2013
- Transparency lags as GOP fundraisers fan out for anti-Filner drive — Aug. 8, 2013