An El Cajon firm headed by former Democratic state senator Steve Peace has been raking in big bucks from the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. According to state campaign finance disclosure records, J.S. Peace & Associates reported getting $60,000 from the public employees union in January, another $60,000 in March, and $40,000 in May, for a total of $160,000 during the first six months of this year. The purpose of the expense was reported as campaign consulting. Peace, onetime director of finance for ousted Democratic governor Gray Davis, has enjoyed long and friendly relations with the state prison guards, who have been major backers of his nonprofit California Independent Voter Project, a group that played a key role in getting voters to approve the state’s new nonpartisan primary system and each fall conducts a controversial shindig on Maui for lobbyists and members of the California legislature. Besides the prison union, event bankrollers reportedly have included Southern California Edison, big tobacco’s Altria, Pacific Gas and Electric, the California Beer and Beverage Distributors, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and Chevron.
Peace’s group uses the corporate and union cash to pick up the tab for the politicians, some of whom have subsequently reimbursed the organization after newspaper exposés focused public attention on the practice. This year the confab drew more media attention than usual, with the Sacramento Bee editorializing, “As expected, these lawmakers are attempting to dismiss any suggestion they will be inappropriately influenced by hanging out at the beach, pool and bar by interests that have a multimillion-dollar stake in legislative decisions.… Our view is: Lawmakers already have plenty of opportunity to mingle with experts and special interests in Sacramento. They don’t need to do it in Maui.”
As a nonprofit rather than a political committee, Peace’s project is not legally required to reveal its contributors’ names and as a result keeps most financial details to itself. According to its latest federal disclosure, filed with the Internal Revenue Service on July 19 and covering 2010, the organization received a total of $2,166,875 in contributions and grants. It had total expenses of $2,807,253. David Takashima, onetime Peace chief of staff and a former director of government affairs for utility giant Pacific Gas and Electric, is president and chief executive.
Peace is chairman of the board, which includes Linda Mitrovich, sister-in-law of City Club of San Diego president George Mitrovich. Back in 2004, controversy arose when it was revealed that two companies owned by Linda and her husband Dan received $859,000 from the Metropolitan Water District to promote its interests in San Diego, where sentiment was running high against L.A.’s strings on the local water supply, the Los Angeles Times reported in August 2004. George Mitrovich got $145,000 from the agency for a similar purpose, according to the Times.
The voter project board also includes Jeff Marston, the San Diego lobbyist and public relations man who was once a Republican assemblyman. The most recent City disclosure for his firm, Marston + Marston, dated October 31, shows that the company has been paid $4000 by FinWater Advisors, LLC, of Denver, Colorado, to lobby for “approval of [a] pilot program” for a “San Diego entertainment district.”
As described on FinWater’s website, the project would allow installation of massive Times Square–style billboards in a part of downtown, with a generous cut of the revenue reserved for the City and property owners. According to its presentation, FinWater hopes to “create a public-private partnership to develop the legal/political environment to make the district a reality.” Marston’s wife, a partner in her husband’s lobbying business, is listed as giving $250 to GOP assemblyman and San Diego mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher.
In separate phone interviews last week, both Marston and FinWater principal David Ehrlich emphasized the project’s potential to generate major financial support for revitalization and arts projects in what is currently a neglected area north of Broadway.
Another lobbyist on Peace’s board is secretary and treasurer Daniel Howle, the Sacramento-based director of public affairs for Lilly USA, a subsidiary of the multinational pharmaceutical firm. According to the voter project’s 2010 disclosure, Howle’s spouse received a $57,000 “fix fee contract” from the nonprofit to “arrange, organize and produce” Peace’s annual Maui event. The group’s total consulting fees were listed as $157,000. The nonprofit also gave $15,000 to the San Diego Asian Film Festival, a favorite of Takashima’s.