M. Larry Lawrence: “You just contact everyone you can who you think and hope will be interested in your candidate and interested in change.”
During this year's presidential campaign, M. Larry Lawrence was a one-man pep rally for Bill Clinton. He's raised money for Clinton at fundraisers, given him money out of his own pocket, and worked on his campaign. But the feisty chairman of the board of the Hotel del Coronado and longtime Democratic powerbroker is by no means the only notable San Diegan who's pitched in to help get the Arkansas governor into the White House.
The Democratic Central Committee’s annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner took place at the Hotel del Coronado; afterward, there was a second bash for Clinton, this one a $50-a-head jazz reception on the hotel’s Promenade Deck.
Several dozen local financial angels who contributed between $250 and $1000, the maximum allowable under federal law, are listed on Clinton's campaign disclosure reports. Some are Democrats, some Republicans. Among them is Allen R. Glick.
In the middle ‘70s, Glick purchased three Las Vegas hotels and casinos with $110 million in loans from the Teamsters’ Central States Pension Fund. In his book The Teamsters, author Steven Brill says there was widespread speculation among Nevada gaming officials and federal organized-crime prosecutors that Glick was merely a front man for the Chicago mob.
While the Lawrences were pounding the campaign trail for Bill Clinton, a group of their employees were giving money to a smattering of Republicans.
In 1979, the Nevada Gaming Commission found that Glick had failed to prevent a $12 million slot-machine skimming operation at his casinos and revoked his license.
Four years later, a U.S. Justice Department indictment against 15 reputed mob figures said they “did acquire and maintain an undisclosed interest in the gaming interests of Allen Glick,” related to violations of Nevada gaming laws. Glick became a government witness in the case. In his 1990 book, War of the Godfathers, William F. Roemer writes, “Allen Glick is living in La Jolla, California, under heavy protection after testifying for the government.”
Lynn Schenk. Larry has another tie to Lynn Schenk that transcends his $1000 campaign contribution. His daughter-in-law, Laurie Black, is the newly elected Congresswoman’s chief of staff.
Glick gave Clinton $975. So did his wife, Tamara. Other husband-and-wife donors include Sid and Jenny Craig, the First Couple of weight control ($2000 between them); car dealer Lawrence Cushman and his arts patron wife, Junko ($2000); Dr. Charles C. Edwards, who headed the Food and Drug Administration under President Nixon, and wife Sue ($2000); Democratic Assemblyman Steve Peace and wife Cheryl ($1800); orthopedic surgeon Dr. Raymond M. Vance and wife Donna ($2000); disarmament expert Herbert York and wife Sybil ($1000); attorney James Dawe and wife Mary ($1700); and banker Murray Galinson and wife Elaine ($2000). Galinson’s kids, Laura Jo and Richard, each gave an additional $250; his mom, Kay, chipped in $850. Other San Diegans who contributed at least $ 1000 to the Clinton war chest include former Democratic Central Committee chairman Stephen Gillis; parking lot czar Mark Battaglia; IT Coronado realtor Phyllis Kraus; Cubic Corporation president and chairman of the board Walter Zable; insurer Robert Driver; and family practitioner Dr. Stanley Foster. Lending credence to Vice President Dan Quayle’s campaign claim that Clinton enjoys a particularly cozy relationship with lawyers, the $1000 club also includes a mess of lawyers, among them Robert Caplan, Wade Sanders, Brian T. Seltzer, Norman T. Seltzer, and Michael T. Thorsnes.
Lawrence gave to former city councilman Bob Filner ($1000).
Sandy Goodkin, the building consultant who has frequently written about real estate for San Diego Magazine and the Tribune, chipped in $500. Harold Brown, who was Secretary of Defense in the Carter Administration and now lives in Rancho Santa Fe, gave $250. So did Samuel “Sandy” Kahn, the owner of the Laurel Travel Center who wants Clinton to appoint him San Diego’s next U.S. Marshal, and jewelers George Carter Jessop Jr. and Mary Jessop.
Lawrence contributed $500 to Susan Golding’s successful campaign for mayor of San Diego.
Much of the San Diego money that went into the Clinton campaign’s coffers was collected May 17 at a $1000- per-person party for Clinton at the Coronado home of Hotel del owner Lawrence, the king of the local Democrats, and his wife, Shelia. The party was held just before the Democratic Central Committee’s annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner at the Hotel del Coronado; afterward, there was a second bash for Clinton, this one a $50-a-head jazz reception on the hotel’s Promenade Deck attended by some 300 people.
But it was the first party that mattered. Larry Lawrence says more than 200 people showed up at the lavish soiree; a source who was there says the total was closer to “maybe 50, 75, most of them friends and associates of Larry.”
“It was nice,” she adds, “with lots of little hors d’oeuvres — better than hot dogs, okay? But I didn’t see caviar.” Murray Galinson, the top guy at San Diego National Bank, was there, accompanied by his wife, Elaine. “It was not only a very entertaining affair, it was an interesting one, because you really got the opportunity to chat with the governor and find out a little bit about what he was about,” Galinson says. “It was not elaborate, but it was very tastefully done.”
How did he get invited? “As I recall, it was a phone call from Larry,” he says.
Dr. Charles C. Edwards, the former Nixon Administration official, and wife Sue were also among the guests. “I don’t know how we arrived on the Lawrences’ guest list, but we were there and we enjoyed it,” Edwards says. “My wife has been a great supporter of Clinton for some time, and I’m an ex-Republican, and I enjoyed meeting him and getting to talk to him.”
How exactly was the guest list drawn up? “You just contact everyone you can who you think and hope will be interested in your candidate and interested in change,” Larry Lawrence says. Regarding the Edwards, he says, “Sue has always been an Iowa Democrat, and Charlie, he just came along with Sue. They supported me before when I did fundraisers for people like Gary Hart.”
It wasn’t just the Lawrences’ guests who gave money to Clinton. The couple themselves contributed a total of $3000 to the Arkansas governor’s campaign, according to financial disclosure forms. Larry and Shelia each contributed $1000 in January, for the primary; on May 26, a week after the shindig at their house, Shelia pitched in an additional $1000 for the general election.
Larry Lawrence also served on Clinton’s national finance committee; Shelia was Southern California campaign coordinator and is said to be a close friend of soon-to-be- First Lady Hillary Clinton. And the week after the election, they both flew to Little Rock, Arkansas, where, according to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, they “celebrated the Democrats’ return to power with tens of thousands of Clinton supporters from around the country.”
Last Friday, Larry flew back to Little Rock to participate in Clinton’s two-day economic conference. He was there until yesterday.
“Bill and I go back 16 years,” Lawrence says. “I met him when he was attorney general of Arkansas, at a Democratic National Committee function. I liked him. And the first time Shelia met Hillary was at some social function somewhere. When Bill was considering running, she was asked to be part of the initial exploratory team before he announced. And she and Hillary hit it off — very much so.”
While the Lawrences were pounding the campaign trail for Bill Clinton, a group of their employees were giving money to a smattering of Republicans, including a pair of congressmen who bitterly opposed the Arkansas governor’s candidacy.
The Hotel del Coronado Employee Association’s Political Action Committee this year gave $1000 to Representative Randy “Duke” Cunningham and $250 to Representative Duncan Hunter, according to the group’s latest financial disclosure statement. Cunningham and Hunter were part of the notorious “Gang of Four” that engaged in the late-night Clinton bashings on the House floor that were broadcast nationally by cable television’s C-Span network.
Roger Geddes, one of the hotel’s attorneys, is also one of the volunteer association’s five board members who determine how its money gets spent. “Larry’s not on the board,” Geddes says. “It’s a democracy; we go by majority vote of the board of directors.” Is Larry Lawrence irked? He claims not. “My politics are personal,” he says. “Seventy-five percent of the executives and employees here are probably Republican. They support people who support tourism and visitors, people who help them because of jobs, and they have their own committee. I don’t have anything to do with that. I probably wouldn’t have approved it [the cash gifts] myself, but that’s their privilege as American citizens.
If they feel Duncan and Duke can help them get visitors to San Diego County, they have a perfect right to do anything they want.”
Besides, he adds, “it would be against the law for me to interfere.”
Clinton wasn’t the only Democrat M. Larry and Shelia Lawrence supported in this year’s round of elections. They gave money to two of Clinton’s primary opponents, Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, to “retire their campaign debts” after they dropped out of the race, Lawrence says. In April, they each gave Kerrey $1000; in June, they each gave Harkin $250.
Larry also spread his wealth among various other Democratic candidates. He gave $500 to Jim Moody’s campaign for the U.S. Senate in the Wisconsin primary (Moody lost); $500 to Washington Senator Brock Adams’ reelection drive (Adams subsequently withdrew from the race after admitting to a number of sexual harassment allegations); $500 to Jane Harman’s successful bid for an open House of Representatives seat from California; $500 each to two failed Senate candidates in the California primary, Mel Levine and Gray Davis; and $250 to unsuccessful California Congressional candidate Patricia Garamendi (wife of Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi).
In local races, Lawrence contributed $500 to Susan Golding’s successful campaign for mayor of San Diego. He also backed two Congressional winners, Lynn Schenk ($1000) and former city councilman Bob Filner ($1000), and one loser, Janet Gastil ($500), who ran against Republican Duncan Hunter.
Shelia, meanwhile, gave $500 to Gray Davis and $1000 to Dianne Feinstein during their respective primary campaigns for the short-term Senate seat from California; $1000 to Lynn Yeakel, who won the Pennsylvania Senate primary but subsequently lost to Republican Arlen Specter, the incumbent; and $500 to former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro in her unsuccessful primary campaign for the Senate in New York.
In the fall of 1991, both Larry and Shelia Lawrence contributed $1000 to Harris Wofford’s successful race for the Senate in Pennsylvania. He ran against Richard Thornburgh, who had been attorney general in the Bush Administration. Larry also gave $500 to State Senator Wadie Deddeh’s failed bid for a seat in the House.
Going back a few years, Lawrence gave money to most of the Democrats who ran for president in the 1988 primaries, including Richard Gephardt, A1 Gore, Gary Hart, Paul Simon, Alan Cranston, Joe Biden, and Bruce Babbitt.
He’s also given money to dozens of Democratic Congressional candidates, most of whom won their respective races. Among them: Lloyd Bentsen (U.S. Senate, Texas); LBJ son-in-law Charles Robb (Senate, Virginia); John Glenn (Senate, Ohio); Jay Nixon (Senate, Missouri); Sidney Yates (House of Representatives, Florida); Gary K. Hart (House, California); Wayne Dowdy (Senate and House, Mississippi); Paul Wellstone (Senate, Minnesota); Jeff Bingaman (Senate, New Mexico); Bob Kerrey (Senate, Nebraska); Buddy MacKay (Senate and House, Florida); Richard A. Licht (Senate, Rhode Island); Daniel Akaka (House, Hawaii); J. James Exon (Senate, Nebraska); Alan Cranston (Senate, California); Howell Heflin (Senate, Alabama); Mel Levine (House, California); Richard Freiman (House, California); John Vinich (House, Wyoming); Joe Biden (Senate, Delaware); Leo McCarthy (Senate, California); Nancy Pelosi (House, California); and even Pete Wilson (Senate, California) — quite possibly the only other Republican, besides Susan Golding, to benefit from the local Democratic kingmakers largesse.
Larry has another tie to Lynn Schenk that transcends his $1000 campaign contribution. His daughter-in-law, Laurie Black, is the newly elected Congresswoman’s chief of staff. Black says she got the job on her own. “For the last year, I have been one of the cochairs of Lynn Schenk’s campaign for Congress, so it made sense at that point to move me into this position,” she says. Besides, she adds, “I have worked over 12 years in the San Diego community, in various positions. I assisted the finance director in 1982 on Tom Bradley’s campaign for governor; I was campaign manager for Lynn Schenk in her 1984 supervisorial race [against Susan Golding]; and in 1985 I worked for Lucy Killea. I also ran the San Diego operations for Kathleen Brown when she ran for treasurer.
“My relationship with my father-in-law has absolutely nothing to do with my being appointed chief of staff to Lynn Schenk. Although he was a contributor, he was not directly involved with Lynn’s campaign on any level.”
And yet Larry Lawrence has been involved in quite a few other Democratic campaigns over the last four decades, on a few different levels.
He was born in Chicago, into a Democratic household. “I was born into politics,” he says. “My grandfather was an alderman, and my mother was a precinct captain. I didn’t know any Republicans. When I went to bed, instead of saying, ‘The boogeyman’s going to get you,’ they would tell me, ‘The Republicans are going to get you.’ ”
In 1947, as soon as he was 21 and able to vote, Lawrence joined — and soon became president of — the Young Democrats in Cook County. In 1948, he volunteered on Adlai Stevenson’s bid for the Illinois governorship. As soon as he came to San Diego in 1952 — he was a developer who promptly set his sights on the vast, open mesas of East Clairemont and Serra Mesa, as well as parts of Chula Vista — he joined the Central Committee and got involved in local Democratic causes.
In 1960, just a few years before he bought the Hotel del Coronado, Lawrence became a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Two years later, he became finance chairman for Lionel Van Deerlin’s Congressional campaign as well as an executive committee member of the California Democratic State Central Committee. In 1963, he moved up to finance chairman of the state party. The following year, Lawrence was named chairman of both the San Diego County Central Committee and the Southern Counties Central Committees; he also encored as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.
After a third stint as a convention delegate in 1968, Lawrence befriended a young lawmaker named Jesse Unruh and in 1970 co-chaired Unruh’s unsuccessful run for governor against incumbent Ronald Reagan. He also became acting Southern California chairman of the California State Democratic Central Committee, a post he subsequently won at the annual convention in January 1971.
During his two-year tenure, according to a 1973 San Diego Union article, “the Democrats went from a 25,000 deficit in voter registration and only one of five assemblymen in the county to about a 30,000 lead in registration and four assemblymen.” Lawrence also campaigned for Senator George McGovern in his unsuccessful bid for the presidency.
In January 1973, Lawrence resigned his state party post, ordered by his doctor, he told the San Diego Union at the time, to take “a vacation from politics for at least a year.” Lawrence subsequently chaired two statewide races: U.S. Senator Alan Cranston’s successful re-election bid and Assembly Speaker Bob Moretti’s primary campaign for the governorship, which he lost to then-Secretary of State Jerry Brown.
Lawrence switched allegiance and headed a statewide group backing Republican Houston I. Flournoy — perhaps the only time in his life he went against the party line. He even starred in a series of TV commercials, trashing Brown.
But that was only a temporary transgression. In 1976, he co-chaired the finance committee of the Frank Church for President campaign and was once again a delegate to the national convention. A year later, he became chairman of the California Presidential Inaugural Committee. In 1980, he was not only a delegate, but co-chairman of the California Carter-Mondale Re-Election Committee.
In 1982, Lawrence joined the Site Selection Committee for the 1984 Democratic National Convention, which he again attended as a delegate. He was also on the Hart for President National Campaign Cabinet after a brief stint as national vice chairman of Ohio Senator (and former astronaut) John Glenn’s abortive presidential bid. It was on the Hart campaign trail that he struck up a friendship with his current wife, Shelia, who at the time was Hart’s Western states financial director.
In 1986, Lawrence founded the Democratic Foundation of San Diego County and a year later was made a trustee of the Democratic Party. He again joined the Hart campaign in the 1988 presidential race, and when Hart dropped out due to the Donna Rice sex scandal, he was quoted in the San Diego Union as blaming “whores in the newspaper business” for removing “one of the most brilliant men in politics from the presidential race.” He was also a delegate at the Democrat’s 1988 parley in Atlanta.
“I think there’s a real difference between Democrats and Republicans,” he says. “Just generally speaking, Republicans are people whose primary interest and concern is self-interest, while Democrats, even affluent Democrats, are people whose primary interest and concern is the welfare of the country.”