• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

When then–Superior Court judge Dick Murphy was running for mayor in the fall of 2000, he made ethics his number-one campaign theme. It seemed like the perfect antidote to the Valerie Stallings influence-buying scandal and conveniently forced Murphy’s opponent, county supervisor Ron Roberts — a self-proclaimed friend of Padres owner John Moores, whose gifts to Stallings had ignited fierce controversy.

In the end, Murphy and Roberts vied for office with dueling plans for a city ethics commission. Murphy trumped Roberts by calling for subpoena power in his version and narrowly carried the election after it emerged that Roberts had repeatedly traveled gratis on a corporate jet belonging to Moores.

Once in office, however, Murphy began to backtrack from some of his more ambitious ethical promises. Although he moved early to set up the ethics commission itself, he discarded his original vow to support a lifetime prohibition on lobbying by former city employees, including city council and mayoral staff. That move was widely seen as a concession to John Kern, an ex–newspaper reporter and Murphy’s longtime political advisor who is now his chief of staff.

Prior to Murphy’s election, Kern had built a prosperous political consulting business, to which he is expected to return following his service to the mayor at city hall. A lifetime ban on influence-peddling might potentially have cost Kern millions of dollars. During an April meeting to adopt the mayor’s ethics ordinance, the lobbying prohibition was watered down to just one year on a 5-4 council vote, with Murphy casting the deciding vote, even though his own appointees to the ethics commission had recommended the lifetime ban.

Murphy also argued vehemently against the commission’s recommendation that the mayor and council be explicitly barred from soliciting campaign contributions from members of city boards and commissions, most of whom are appointed by the mayor and ratified by a majority vote of the council. According to a March 13, 2002, legal opinion from the city attorney, "State law...generally precludes the solicitation of campaign contributions from City employees and City Officers," including "board and commission members who are public officials subject to the [state] Political Reform Act and required to file annual statements of economic interest."

The mayor, however, argued against giving the ethics commission the ability to enforce and expand the state prohibition against solicitations, and he carried the day on a 7-2 vote, which came as no surprise to many old-time city hall watchers. Members of the city’s 60 or so boards and commissions have long been lucrative fundraising targets for mayors and councilmembers.

Charles Walker, executive director of the ethics commission, says the commissioners still think that city officials should be subject to a lifetime ban on lobbying and maintain hope that the council will ultimately reconsider its position.

"The ordinance as it was adopted by the council is the law in the city, and we have a one-year cooling-off period with regard to the revolving door. The ethics commission has an ad hoc subcommittee that’s still exploring ways to go back to the council regarding the lifetime ban revolving-door stuff. We don’t know when we’ll go back to them."

Walker adds that Murphy "didn’t foreclose us from coming back. The big concern that most of [the council] had was the lifetime ban as we had originally proposed it. We needed to make it clearer, to come up with more hypothetical examples, more ways to sell it to the council. As it was written, it left a lot of ambiguity."

As for the commission’s proposed prohibition on contribution soliciting from appointees, Walker says it was dead on arrival at the council. "They made it clear that they didn’t agree with our position. We filed a brief that basically says that we believe that the stance they’re taking goes against state law. They disagree. There’s not going to be an effort to go back, because we don’t think we’re close on that." Murphy’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.

One recent Murphy appointee, who declined to be identified by name, said he had been consistently refused appointment to a seat on one of the city’s more coveted advisory panels until he broke down and contributed to Murphy’s campaign fund. The appointee said that he had not been explicitly solicited by Murphy or his aides but wrote a check after seeing that others who had received appointments had contributed to the mayor. He subsequently received an appointment.

Not every mayoral appointee has given money to the Murphy campaign, but enough have to make an interesting list. Below is a reverse chronological record of appointees who have also been Murphy financial backers, based on official campaign finance-disclosure records. Biographies and other descriptive material are quoted directly from the mayoral news releases announcing each appointment. Contribution records for the first half of 2002 will not be available until next month.

July 15, 2002


The duties of the Commission include investigating and improving dwelling conditions in the City of San Diego. The Housing Commission also reviews and makes recommendations on all matters before the Housing Authority.

Tyler Cramer is a director, officer, and principal at the law firm of Olmstead, Cramer & Pizzuto. He specializes in real estate and commercial matters. Cramer is a member of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and current member and past chair of the Business Roundtable for Education. He received a bachelor’s in political science from Stanford University and juris doctorate from the University of California, Hastings College of Law.

Cramer gave $100 on June 3, 1999, and $250 on August 23, 2000.

June 27, 2002


The Commission’s duties include advising the Mayor and Council on matters which impact both the technology industry and the City’s research and scientific institutions in order to help ensure that our region will continue to attract and incubate growth and investment.

Craig Andrews is a partner and vice chairman at the law firm Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison. Andrews is a past member of the San Diego Biotechnology/ Biomedical Corporate Partnership Forum and past chair of the San Diego Business and Technology Group. He holds a bachelor’s from the University of California Los Angeles and a juris doctorate from the University of Michigan Law School.

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

More from SDReader


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!