San Diego's Republican mayor has been into plenty of denial lately regarding his future political intentions, but a series of expenses recently disclosed by his 2016 reelection committee suggests a different story.
After pledging he would serve out a full term if re-elected last June, Kevin Faulconer has reportedly been dropping more than a few hints among California's big-money GOP elite that he could be drafted to run for governor in 2018.
Earlier this month, ex-LA mayor Richard Riordan told the Associated Press that Faulconer "wants to run.”
That assertion was disputed by Jason Roe, the San Diego politico guru and sometime city hall influence-peddler known as Faulconer's "brain," who told the AP, "the idea that he is planning to run is not accurate.”
Continued Roe: "People have been encouraging him up and down the state to enter the contest. I’ve never heard him say, ‘I’m planning to run.’”
Meanwhile, a newly filed campaign disclosure report required by state law shows that the Faulconer for Mayor 2016 committee has made a series of payments to Stephen Puetz — the mayor's taxpayer-paid chief of staff who doubles as a political operative — totaling more than $2800 during the second half of 2016,
In addition, as of December 31, the end of the reporting period, Faulconer's campaign still owed Puetz $2725 in un-itemized "office expenses."
Payments to Puetz, according to the campaign's January 22, 2017, disclosure report, included $1347 for "airfare to assist No on Prop 57," an early-parole measure backed by Democratic governor Jerry Brown that was adopted by voters in November.
Other Puetz payments included $460 for a "staff thank you event — Currant American Brasserie," and $369 for airfare to San Jose on Southwest Airlines for a November 14 "political mtg." The purpose for a $341 undated payment to the mayoral chief of staff was identified only as "meeting."
Additionally, the document shows Puetz was paid $239 for lodging from September 15 through September 16 at the Fairmont Newport Beach hotel for what was reported to be a "political mtg." The mayor's wife Katherine Stuart got $275 for lodging at the same hotel on the same dates.
$106 for a September 26 "polit mtg" Puetz had with Faulconer at the Hamilton in Washington DC was also billed to the campaign. A month later, on November 29, Puetz, Faulconer, and five others spent $1149 on another "polit mtg" at Fleming's steakhouse.
On December 14, the filing says, Puetz, Falconer, and two others used $610 in campaign funds for a "polit/leg mtg" at Morton's steakhouse in San Diego.
The filing shows that the Faulconer 2016 committee raised a total of $417,988 in contributions during 2016, closing the year with a cash balance of $78,667.
The mayor’s committee and so-called political action committees not directly controlled by Faulconer have received much of their campaign cash from a bevy of special interests with business at city hall, a happenstance that could invite future questions along the California campaign trail regarding the role of San Diego city staffers in the mayor’s political operations.
Potential issues regarding Puetz’s city-hall role have already emerged in the form of campaign money funneled to Faulconer 2016 by La Jolla Democratic billionaire Irwin Jacobs and associates during the Qualcomm founder’s lobbying efforts for the Plaza de Panama road and parking garage project in Balboa Park.
Faulconer's campaign guru Jason Roe, while not on the city’s payroll, has also played an insider role at city hall alongside Puetz, drawing the ire of Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani, who questioned whether Roe's professional lobbying activities were appropriate.
"When the meeting between the Chargers' representative and the Task Force began, your chief political consultant, Jason Cable Roe, sat with the Task Force throughout the entire meeting," wrote Fabiani in 2015.
"What legal and ethical issues are raised by Mr. Roe's dual role as an apparent de facto Task Force member and as a registered lobbyist for the Delaware North company, which is bidding to become the new concessionaire at Qualcomm Stadium and, potentially, at any new stadium in San Diego?"