Robin and Jim Madaffers’ conflicts of interest — what conflicts of interest?
Jim Madaffer, who first linked up with second wife Robin a decade ago when he was a Republican member of the San Diego city council and she was a big-money city hall lobbyist, continues to grapple with conflict-of-interest questions arising from their relationship. The latest issue stems from Madaffer’s membership on the board of the San Diego County Water Authority, to which he was appointed by GOP then-mayor Jerry Sanders in October 2012. Potential conflicts have subsequently followed close behind for the ex-councilman, who himself has found work as an influence peddler at Madaffer Enterprises, which, according to its website, has “deep, long-standing relationships with elected officials and decision makers in municipalities and government agencies throughout the state.”
Meanwhile, wife Robin Madaffer labors close by as a member of the state bar. A November 7, 2016, letter of advice to the water authority from the California Fair Political Practices Commission notes that the water agency “retained the law firm of Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP as special counsel regarding certain litigation matters. In the past year and well after the water authority’s existing contract with Procopio was in place, Director Madaffer’s spouse joined Procopio as a non-equity partner.”
The plot then thickens. “It is anticipated that in the next year, the Authority may need to amend its existing contract with Procopio or enter into new contracts with the firm for additional legal services. Additionally, Director Madaffer’s spouse may become an equity partner prior to these decisions.” Thus, the question arises, “May the San Diego County Water Authority amend its existing contract or execute a new contract with a law firm, in light of the fact that the spouse of Director Jim Madaffer recently joined the firm as a partner, if the Director Madaffer recuses himself from the decision?”
No problem, says the state’s self-styled political watchdog. As long as Madaffer avoids a direct role in the action and abstains from voting, the benefit to his wife from the fat water district contract is regarded by state law as merely a “remote interest” to him and hence doesn’t represent a legal conflict. “In this case, Director Madaffer is an appointed member of an unelected board and his spouse is the owner or partner of the law firm. It is well established that the remote interest exceptions apply in those circumstances when it is the official’s spouse who has the actual interest as opposed to the official.”