“Our own city has seen a chorus of ethics violations and influence peddling from city officials,” wrote Austin Beutner, the new publisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune, now owned by Chicago-based Tribune Publishing. “Advisors to these same city officials boast of ‘leveraging their elected office’ to raise campaign donations and openly flout a new law intended to restrict city contractors from making campaign contributions.” Continued Beutner, “Shameful, isn’t it? No wonder the public has little trust or respect for politicians. Elected office is meant to be an honor, not a road to personal riches.” The solution? “It’s time for a top-to-bottom reform of the city’s lax ethics rules and bloated perks and compensation practices which undermine city government by feeding cynicism about our public institutions and elected leaders.”
Beutner wasn’t talking about San Diego, where the ethics commission recently reported that local influence peddlers — including three former city councilmen, Republicans Jim Madaffer and Byron Wear, and Democrat Tony Young — grossed a new annual record of $3.9 million in special-interest lobbying fees last year. Instead, the U-T honcho, who is also publisher of the Los Angeles Times, was describing the situation in L.A. in a January 2012 blog item he wrote for the Huffington Post.
At the time, Beutner, a former investment banker and onetime top aide to Democratic mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, was engaged in a brief run for L.A. mayor. Whether the San Diego U-T under Beutner will endorse ethics reform here — which could threaten the long-term revenue potential of the city’s top commercial powers, and hence engender their animosity to the newly revised paper — remains to be seen. When it came to the widespread practice of anteing up cash for influence at city hall, previous U-T publisher Douglas Manchester, a major Republican campaign giver who employed downtown super lobbyist Paul Robinson to obtain millions of dollars’ worth of added property value in post facto permits for his Grand del Mar resort, discretely looked the other way.