The Manchester Grand Hyatt contributed $300,000.
When San Diego's hotel lobby, backed by a host of out-of-town operators, began its quest for an expanded downtown convention center via a 2018 tax hike initiative, some local political professionals were skeptical.
Jerry Sanders urged Chamber of Commerce board members to gather signatures "through work, friends, and family."
Their doubts turned to disdain in May 2018 when the hotel owners, allied with well-heeled labor unions, came up with a modest campaign war chest and proceeded to lavish much of the cash on friends and political associates of Republican San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer.
They included Irvine-basedRick Manter, a onetime Faulconer colleague at the public relations and lobbying firm of NCG Porter Novelli, who ultimately got a total $83,833, including travel expenses, according to city disclosure filings.
Doing even better was lobbying and politics concern Southwest Strategies, a longtime Faulconer friend and financial backer, which received a total of $170,677, records show. Manolatos Nelson Murphy, another Faulconer-friendly PR outfit, got $33,136.
But the signature-gathering drive went so slowly that GOP ex-mayor and Chamber of Commerce honcho Jerry Sanders issued a last-minute call for volunteers.
Former Faulconer chief of staff Stephen Puetz's firm got $132,586.
"If each of our Board members helps to gather 50 signatures through work, friends, and family, we can ensure this important initiative is placed on the November ballot," said Sanders in a June 2018 email reported by the Union-Tribune.
In the end, proponents managed to increase their budget, but barely mustered enough signatures, forcing them to pull strings at the city council to hustle the tax hike measure onto the March 2020 primary ballot.
Veteran local campaign observers guesstimated that achieving the legally required two-thirds vote for approval would end up costing backers between $3 million and $5 million to pull off. But fundraising continued to lag, revealing the limitations of how much cash hotels and their suppliers were willing to put into the tax hike.
Finally, with polls showing Measure C below the threshold for approval, hotel owners adjacent to the convention center stepped up with more money. On January 14, the Hilton San Diego Bayfront gave $200,000. On January 27, Marriott International came up with $250,000. The Manchester Grand Hyatt contributed $250,000 on February 5.
Late reports show the Manchester Grand Hyatt came up with an additional $50,000, as did Hilton, on Monday, March 2, the day before the election. Hilton also contributed $50,000 on February 20.
The total collected from January 1 through February 14, was $1.91 million, records show. Data from city disclosure reports filed by proponents show that their committee spent a total of $1.9 million during the same period, well under what those in the political know said was the required minimum of $3 million or more in the face of voter doubts about the open-ended proposal.
Despite serving up another embarrassing failure for the mayor, his longtime associates appear to have done well financially. Axiom Strategies of Kansas City, where ex-Faulconer chief of staff Stephen Puetz is senior vice-president, got $132,586 on January 19. Subsidiary AxMedia received $535,592 for "TV and Radio Ads" on January 18 and $655,424 for telephone work on February 15, according to city disclosure reports.