Jeff Smith noon, March 8
Port and council staff load up on free banquet tickets from super lobbyists
Port commissioner Merrifield joins in merriment, courtesy of hotel mogul-backed business lobbying group attacking Filner; later reimburses, filing shows
Back in May, the San Diego County Taxpayers Association – a bastion of high-powered San Diego influence peddlers, including city hall lobbyists Paul Robinson; Al Ziegaus's Southwest Strategies; and Tom Shepard's Public Policy Strategies; as well as, according to the group’s website, Latham & Watkins; Chevron; Sempra Energy; Sea World; the Western States Petroleum Association; and Walmart - threw its yearly lobbyists' laugh fest, otherwise known as the 18th annual Goldens dinner.
To promote ticket sales, Republican city attorney Jan Goldsmith, known for his long-running political war with Democratic mayor Bob Filner, was persuaded by the lobbyists to dress up as a chorus boy and dance up a storm behind someone dressed as a junkyard dog.
One of the association's chief targets of support this year was a failed court battle and lobbying push to get Filner to sign off on a hotel-backed funding deal with the city negotiated by his predecessor, Republican Jerry Sanders, a major beneficiary of the hotel owners’ political largesse.
A longtime member and past chairman of the lobbying group is Mike McDowell, vice president of corporate affairs at Atlas Hotels, Inc., the Mission Valley-based lodging outfit owned by GOP hotel magnate Terry Brown, leader of the anti-Filner campaign.
In February, Lani Lutar, then-president of the association, fired off a series of tweets during a speech by Filner at another downtown lobbyists dinner:
Now, a state disclosure statement posted online has revealed that staffers at the San Diego Unified Port District – widely regarded as an especially kind and generous landlord to the city's biggest hotels - as well as two Republican city council aides, attended the $200 per ticket event for free, courtesy of the association.
Port commissioner Marshall Merrifield , a wealthy video surveillance and security executive and onetime GOP council candidate in La Jolla, got two tickets and accompanied the staffers to the banquet, but later made reimbursement, according to the filing.
Merrifield - whose naming to the port commission by the city council was vetoed in January by Filner - ultimately was sworn in after Goldsmith held that the mayor could not veto council port picks and advised the city clerk to certify the appointment.
Those listed as going to the Goldens for free and not reimbursing were Diana Palacios, communications director for GOP councilmember Scott Sherman and Mayra Vazquez, an "outreach assistant" in the office of Republican councilman Mark Kersey.
In addition, three members of the port's real estate staff and one staffer in the "government and civic relations" department got free tickets, according to the disclosure.
One free ticket each was given to staff in the port’s human resources and the financial services departments.
No port staff names are included in the disclosure.
The "public purpose" for all of the freebies was listed by the port as "Representation of the District at event to sustain or build relationships with tenants, businesses, or local, regional, state, or federal agencies."
In what appears to be somewhat of an irony, the lobbyists gave the port a Golden award for "Revisions to Travel and Business Expense Reimbursement Policy."
More like this:
- As Filner recall gathers, U-T San Diego owner bankrolls local GOP — Aug. 1, 2013
- Big three hotel moguls girding for Filner war? — July 23, 2013
- Symphony lobbyist raises big cash for GOP Lincoln Club's city council contender — July 9, 2013
- Advocacy group closely tied to big hotel owner backs legal attack on Filner — Feb. 23, 2013
- More key lobbyist names emerge in wake of mayor's high dollar fundraiser — Jan. 24, 2013