It's been a busy political season of beer drinking, free cocktailing and glad-handing for Sixth District San Diego city councilman Chris Cate, thanks in part to a torrent of charitable cash anted up by some of San Diego city hall's biggest special interests, including San Diego Gas and Electric, Gafcon, and paramedic contractor AMR.
A political fundraising champion, Cate has long tapped corporations for campaign and so-called behested funding, the practice by which well-heeled donors give cash to charities in the name of elected officials, resulting in positive word-of-mouth, special events, and favorable media coverage.
In one case, Cate appeared on TV station's KFMB news last December, billed by a newscaster as a "special elf" who was providing free Christmas trees to families with military ties.
“We are a military town and we were able to secure the funding necessary to give a hundred free Christmas Trees to military families and veterans getting ready for the Christmas season," Cate announced to the television audience without disclosing that the $5000 source of the money was Arkansas-based retail giant Walmart.
In another instance, Cate re-branded his August Charity Cornhole Tournament last year after city hall wags called attention to the word's sexual connotations, a designation said to have left some of the event's funders - which included Walmart, San Diego Gas & Electric, AT&T, Dart Container, AMR, COX, Hanson Aggregates, the San Diego Association of Realtors, California Strategies, Sudberry Properties, and Responsible Solutions - unpleased.
Cate's push for behested cash was documented in 2017 by the city’s release of emails showing that his staff repeatedly pressed the lobbying firm of California Strategies to come up with funding for the councilman's August 2017 cornhole event, redesignated “Councilman Chris Cate’s D6 Charity Toss Tournament.”
"I wanted to follow up regarding a voicemail Councilman Cate left you yesterday afternoon," said staffer Jenna Harris in an April 11, 2017 email to Julianna Chick Tetlow, a lobbyist and ex-Cate worker employed by California Strategies. "He was reaching out regarding the D6 Charity Toss Tournament taking place on August 19th at Mira Mesa Community Park."
Continued Harris, "We would love to have the support of California Strategies and clients. California Strategies was a Gold Sponsor ($2,000) at last year's event, and we hope we can count on the same level of support at this year's event." Responded Tetlow: "Just a quick note to let you know I am still working on this. Everyone has been so busy that we haven't had an opportunity to discuss it."
Two months later came the leak of a confidential city document about the SoccerCity Mission Valley development to Craig Benedetto of California Strategies, a SoccerCity lobbyist. Blasting the leak as an "egregious breach of public trust," City Attorney Mara Elliott demanded the resignation of any city employee responsible.
Cate ultimately fessed up that October to being the illegal source, and in December paid a $5000 penalty to the city's ethics committee.
"I agreed to pay a fine to put the matter to rest," he explained. "While the city attorney did not introduce the Soccer City memo in closed session, it became clear she did intend it as privileged information.”
In the weeks leading up to Cate's confession, per email records released by the city under the state's public records act, staffer Harris continued to hit up California Strategies for cash for the councilman's cornhole tournament.
The city's email server was used to send appeals to the firm for money in August 2017, more than a month after the Elliott opinion leak and weeks before Cate's admission to having given the document to the lobbyists.
"Our records indicate that we have not yet received your contribution." Harris added, "The event is 21 and over this year, as the whole field is a beer garden so players can enjoy craft beer while playing." Replied Joy Forte of California Strategies: "Thanks for the information, very helpful. The payment is in process and will be sent to you soon. Have a great day!"
As he seeks re-election to a second term this coming November, Cate's office-based behest operation has continued. A disclosure document dated July 30 and time-stamped by the city clerk's office August 10 shows that San Diego Gas & Electric came up with $5000 for the 2018 San Diego Night Market on June 23. The same cause got a $1500 cash donation in the councilman's name from the Sharp Health Plan, and cable TV and Internet service provider Cox Communications gave $2500.
Contractor Gafcon, whose executive Josh Gaffen recently accused the San Diego County Taxpayers Association of playing big-money politics with school bond endorsements, came up with $1000 on March 15 for Cate's 2018 State of the District speech, per another July 30 disclosure.
SDG&E was a $2500 donor for the same speech, according to a separate document showing paramedic contractor AMR giving $2000. Each filing regarding the event says the donations for Cate's speech were made to One San Diego, Mayor Kevin Faulconer's non-profit funding source, otherwise noteworthy for staging the mayor's Thanksgiving turkey giveaways in poorer parts of the city.
According to a notice posted early this year on the EventBright website, Cate's free March 15 event, held at CrownAir Aviation's private jet facility at Montgomery Field, featured "complimentary parking' and a post-speech "hosted cocktail reception," featuring "complimentary canned craft cocktails" and "complimentary Cajun cuisine."
Says a note about the event on the city website: "CrownAir asks that they do not take [any] photos or video of the tail numbers on the planes. Everything else is fine."