As a result of gerrymandering by the state legislature, San Diego’s congressional incumbents don’t have much to fear in their quest for reelection this fall. Democrats Susan Davis and Bob Filner, along with Republicans Brian Bilbray and Darrell Issa, are all assured an easy, almost certain path to victory. And the only seat being vacated this year belongs to the GOP’s retiring Duncan L. Hunter, whose son, conveniently named Duncan D. Hunter, is running to replace him and appears to be a similar shoo-in. But the delegation hasn’t stopped raising and spending a lot of campaign money on some eye-catching items, including payments to family members.
Take the case of Brian Bilbray, who through the middle of this year had already spent $534,869 on a variety of goods and services. They included $1978 for a “political retreat” run by the Congressional Institute; a $3600 tab at the French Gourmet for a fund-raiser; fees of $12,500 paid to San Diego lawyer David King; $8647 for air fare on United; and $5243 to the White House Historical Association for “gifts to contributors.” Of course, what would a good campaign be without some down-home self-dealing? Twelve thousand twenty-eight dollars was paid to the family-owned Bilbray Tax Service.
For his part, Democrat Filner spent a total of $806,079, including $36,173 for catering at the unionized Mission Bay Hilton and $1081 at the National Democratic Club in Washington. And, like his across-the-aisle colleague Bilbray, Filner is famous for helping out the family.
Back in December 2005, the Union-Tribune bashed Filner for paying consulting company Campaign Resources, owned by his wife, Jane Merrill, $505,000 for fund-raising over the previous decade. The story emerged after Juan Vargas, a fellow Democrat who was running against Filner, discovered the arrangement. Six months later, Vargas lost his 2006 primary challenge to the incumbent. Following that, the U-T apparently lost interest in the story and never wrote another word about it, but Merrill’s outfit is still pulling down some sizable cash. From January to July of this year, the Filner camp paid Campaign Resources a total of $28,000, about $4000 a month, except for March when the firm collected just $1000 and February when it got $3000.
Fellow Democrat Susan Davis, occupying arguably the safest-of-the-safest Democratic seats, still managed to spend $340,823. Twenty thousand dollars went to Grove Insight, run by Lisa Grove, a colorful Democratic pollster from Portland, Oregon, who sports a big question mark tattooed onto her left shoulder and has worked for everyone from big labor to Al Gore in 1988 to liberal ex–Colombian president César Gaviria.