A key lobbying arm of San Diego's business establishment has taken a direct hit from a well-connected member of its board over repeated incidents of alleged endorsement hanky-panky, possibly damaging the group's longtime ability to influence the fate of school bonds and other public spending measures.
Josh Gaffen, son of long-time contractor Yehudi “Gaf” Gaffen, fired off an August 31 letter to fellow board members of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, announcing his resignation from the seat he has held for "several years," according to the missive.
"My experience has been that SDCTA is essentially run by lobbyists, and the Taxpayers brand is used to bolster the positions of the lobbyists' clients under the guise of an impartial non-profit," says the letter on stationery bearing the logo of Gaffen-owned Gafcon, Inc.
Gaffen goes on to charge that the self-styled taxpayers' group extracts cash from school districts prior to making endorsements. "In fact, one of the criteria for bond support is that a school district pay the Taxpayers education foundation to have district staff take a class put on by the Taxpayers."
Politics plays a nefarious role in the association's other behind-the-scenes machinations, per the letter. "When SDCTA is faced with tight deadlines for positions that align with its political/philosophical biases, the organization has violated its bylaws to take rushed positions through the executive committee. In these cases, the organization bypasses its Board, takes public positions, including signing ballot arguments, then seeks Board ratification after the fact."
"Perhaps most troubling about this board circumvention is the fact that a member of the executive committee who recently made the motion to oppose a school bond measure is a lobbyist for an organization working to oppose the measure because of their opposition to organized labor," wrote Gaffen.
The association's website shows that its top ranks are heavily populated by local influence peddlers, including vice-chairs Kimberly Hale Miller of Rath-Miller, and James Lawson, an ex-Kevin Faulconer aide who took over Presidio Public Affairs, the controversial lobbying outfit of the GOP mayor's political brain Jason Roe in July 2015.
Other lobbyist board members on the list include Ben Boyce of Southwest Strategies; Craig Benedetto of California Strategies; and Oscar Urteaga of Madaffer Enterprises, Inc.
Utility giant Sempra Energy's Mark Nelson and Todd Voorhees of the firm's subsidiary SDG&E, are represented. The taxpayers association is a leading opponent of ongoing efforts to relieve Sempa of its power distribution monopoly in county cities, with association executive director Haney Hong serving as co-chair of the Sempra-backed Clear the Air Coalition.
Per Gaffen's communication, examples of quick-and-dirty decisions that have detoured the full board have included the association's opposition to the San Diego Unified School District's $3.5 billion bond measure on this November's ballot.
According to the company's website, Gafcon has provided program management and labor compliance services for the district's $4.9 billion of previously bond-financed improvements.
In addition to its coveted ballot endorsements, the taxpayers' group is most noted for its yearly Golden Fleece awards, featuring local politicos cavorting on stage, poking fun at the expense of local governments in front of a banquet audience filled with other politicians and lobbyist clients who regularly do business with the same entities.
First to publicly air Gaffen's complaint in a September 1 write-up was the Voice of San Diego, a non-profit online news and opinion group which has received much of its operating cash from Qualcomm billionaire Irwin Jacobs. His son Jeff "JJ" Jacobs is partnered with the elder Gaffen in downtown's Seaport Village site redevelopment project on public tidelands controlled by the San Diego Unified Port District.
The website's dispatch added that Andy Berg, executive director of the National Electrical Contractors Association, has also resigned from the taxpayer's association board. "Some folks didn’t get their way so they’re trying to cause a stink,” association executive director Hong was quoted by the item as saying in an emailed denial of Gaffen's allegations.