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San Diego's Chamber of Commerce caught in a bind

Fighting Prop 15, but giving to its supporters

Will Moore’s campaign has benefited from about $57,000 in chamber PAC-funded mailers.
Will Moore’s campaign has benefited from about $57,000 in chamber PAC-funded mailers.

Jerry Sanders, chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, has come out against the property tax increase, Proposition 15, so describing the mission of the chamber’s political action committee becomes easier. But whatever the PAC’s goals are, its giving appears paradoxical and not ideological.

While the chamber stands against raising property taxes on commercial enterprises – not a surprise to anyone – it has poured more than $100,000 of dollars into the campaigns of candidates who favor the increase. According to San Diego city data harvested and studied on Oct. 9, council district candidates have all benefited from the chamber’s war chest.

(The data download date is important because this week, as people receive ballots in the mail, should trigger a frenzy of last-minute expenditures not included here.)

Even more startling, the chamber PAC has channeled at least $99,963 into Neighbors for Housing Solutions Supporting Todd Gloria, with strange bedfellows; Neighbors’ largest contributor is the San Diego Municipal Employees Association – often at odds with the chamber, along with AirBNB, and a multitude of laborer and construction worker-funded PACs. Though the Neighbors PAC is paying for independent expenditures for Gloria – more than $160,000, it has spent at least $73,000 on television ads and mailers split about equally for two opposing candidates, Marni Von Wilpert and Joe Leventhal in city council district 5. The data available from the city’s open data portal shows that the spending was reported at the end of September and this month. (The chamber PAC also reported a $25,000 expenditure for Leventhal in July.)

The Neighbors PAC has spent about $90,000 on a mailer for Will Moore, candidate in city council district 1.

Multiple requests for information and comment, including a list of specific questions, from the chamber PAC over 10 days have gone without a response. But it isn’t just the chamber that isn’t talking. Three well-known political campaign professionals declined to talk about the chamber PAC on the record, while all agreed the PAC is the city’s ‘big dog’ for campaign money. (The Building Industry Association Political Action Committee seems to be second.)

So far this year, the chamber PAC spent $25,000 on Measure E to lift height limits in the Midway District, about $65,000 on Democrat Chris Olsen, who lost in the District 3 primary, and of course, $70,000 on the convention center expansion.

The chamber PAC’s two largest incoming contributions, at $35,000 each in 2020, come from Kilroy Realty in Los Angeles and a limited liability corporation based in Beverly Hills called XJD, created by Michael Schlesinger, per Secretary of State records. In 2016. XJD sold the property at 7th and A streets downtown, according to the Business Journal.

Schlesinger is a developer who buys golf courses and redevelops them – and once spread chicken manure over the defunct Escondido Country Club golf course. He has a net of limited liability corporations, a common approach to limiting potential liability from projects that almost all developers use.

The other $35,000 donor, Kilroy Realty, is a real estate investment trust specializing in West Coast properties from Seattle to San Diego, holding 13.3 million square feet of office space and at least 200 residences, according to Reuters. Kilroy developed One Paseo, and holds properties in Sabre Springs, Carmel Valley and Del Mar. (Since it’s publicly traded, more information is available from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.)

That might explain the chamber PAC’s strong support for district 1 candidate Will Moore; he is the most pro-development candidate for north coastal district. Only Todd Gloria won more chamber PAC money. According to city data records, Moore’s campaign has benefited from about $57,000 in chamber PAC-funded mailers in the primary election, as well as a $25,000 contribution in September to Reform City Government Supporting Will Moore for City Council, a PAC sponsored by the chamber and funded by the BIA.

Developer H.G. Fenton tied with Cox Communications as the chamber PAC’s third largest funder, at $20,000 each this year, and the local Building Industry Association pumped $12,500 into the chamber PAC despite having its own PAC. Sempra Energy brought $12,000 to the PAC, and Republic Services – a publicly traded trash and recycling company in Arizona — threw in another $10,000.

Just 20 contributors gave the chamber PAC more than $5,000 each, and a handful donated $1,000; the remaining 50-some funders range from Rady Children’s Hospital ($930), General Atomics ($700), the United Way ($375), and several cannabis outlets, to two dozen anemic contributions from locals including NBC ($150) and Old Town Trolley ($120).

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Will Moore’s campaign has benefited from about $57,000 in chamber PAC-funded mailers.
Will Moore’s campaign has benefited from about $57,000 in chamber PAC-funded mailers.

Jerry Sanders, chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, has come out against the property tax increase, Proposition 15, so describing the mission of the chamber’s political action committee becomes easier. But whatever the PAC’s goals are, its giving appears paradoxical and not ideological.

While the chamber stands against raising property taxes on commercial enterprises – not a surprise to anyone – it has poured more than $100,000 of dollars into the campaigns of candidates who favor the increase. According to San Diego city data harvested and studied on Oct. 9, council district candidates have all benefited from the chamber’s war chest.

(The data download date is important because this week, as people receive ballots in the mail, should trigger a frenzy of last-minute expenditures not included here.)

Even more startling, the chamber PAC has channeled at least $99,963 into Neighbors for Housing Solutions Supporting Todd Gloria, with strange bedfellows; Neighbors’ largest contributor is the San Diego Municipal Employees Association – often at odds with the chamber, along with AirBNB, and a multitude of laborer and construction worker-funded PACs. Though the Neighbors PAC is paying for independent expenditures for Gloria – more than $160,000, it has spent at least $73,000 on television ads and mailers split about equally for two opposing candidates, Marni Von Wilpert and Joe Leventhal in city council district 5. The data available from the city’s open data portal shows that the spending was reported at the end of September and this month. (The chamber PAC also reported a $25,000 expenditure for Leventhal in July.)

The Neighbors PAC has spent about $90,000 on a mailer for Will Moore, candidate in city council district 1.

Multiple requests for information and comment, including a list of specific questions, from the chamber PAC over 10 days have gone without a response. But it isn’t just the chamber that isn’t talking. Three well-known political campaign professionals declined to talk about the chamber PAC on the record, while all agreed the PAC is the city’s ‘big dog’ for campaign money. (The Building Industry Association Political Action Committee seems to be second.)

So far this year, the chamber PAC spent $25,000 on Measure E to lift height limits in the Midway District, about $65,000 on Democrat Chris Olsen, who lost in the District 3 primary, and of course, $70,000 on the convention center expansion.

The chamber PAC’s two largest incoming contributions, at $35,000 each in 2020, come from Kilroy Realty in Los Angeles and a limited liability corporation based in Beverly Hills called XJD, created by Michael Schlesinger, per Secretary of State records. In 2016. XJD sold the property at 7th and A streets downtown, according to the Business Journal.

Schlesinger is a developer who buys golf courses and redevelops them – and once spread chicken manure over the defunct Escondido Country Club golf course. He has a net of limited liability corporations, a common approach to limiting potential liability from projects that almost all developers use.

The other $35,000 donor, Kilroy Realty, is a real estate investment trust specializing in West Coast properties from Seattle to San Diego, holding 13.3 million square feet of office space and at least 200 residences, according to Reuters. Kilroy developed One Paseo, and holds properties in Sabre Springs, Carmel Valley and Del Mar. (Since it’s publicly traded, more information is available from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.)

That might explain the chamber PAC’s strong support for district 1 candidate Will Moore; he is the most pro-development candidate for north coastal district. Only Todd Gloria won more chamber PAC money. According to city data records, Moore’s campaign has benefited from about $57,000 in chamber PAC-funded mailers in the primary election, as well as a $25,000 contribution in September to Reform City Government Supporting Will Moore for City Council, a PAC sponsored by the chamber and funded by the BIA.

Developer H.G. Fenton tied with Cox Communications as the chamber PAC’s third largest funder, at $20,000 each this year, and the local Building Industry Association pumped $12,500 into the chamber PAC despite having its own PAC. Sempra Energy brought $12,000 to the PAC, and Republic Services – a publicly traded trash and recycling company in Arizona — threw in another $10,000.

Just 20 contributors gave the chamber PAC more than $5,000 each, and a handful donated $1,000; the remaining 50-some funders range from Rady Children’s Hospital ($930), General Atomics ($700), the United Way ($375), and several cannabis outlets, to two dozen anemic contributions from locals including NBC ($150) and Old Town Trolley ($120).

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