Ian Anderson 9:02 a.m., Aug. 20
Wealthy GOP insider and border baron backs Democrat Scott Peters against Brian Bilbray
Malin Burnham, one of San Diego's most ubiquitous Republican insiders, city hall wheeler-dealers, and border barons, has joined the congressional campaign bandwagon of Democrat Scott Peters, the ex-San Diego city councilman battling GOP incumbent Brian Bilbray in the new 52nd district.
The news came today in a release from the Peters camp, which called Burnham a "prominent businessman and philanthropist."
Actually, the elderly GOP yachtsman and real estate mogul is a lot more a person of interest than that sounds.
Though he mainly backs Republicans, including giving regular five-figure contributions to the GOP Lincoln Club, the Peters endorsement isn't the first time Burnham has gotten intriguingly cozy with well-heeled Democrats.
As we reported in November 2009, Burnham has been a business partner with Alan Bersin - the ex-city schools chief and former Clinton administration U.S. Attorney - in a cross-border development venture outside of Mexicali known as "Silicon Border."
According to a financial disclosure filed in 2008 by Bersin's wife, Superior Court Judge Lisa Foster, the well-heeled couple owned stock in Silicon Border worth between $100,000 and $1 million.
When Bersin joined the Obama administration in the spring of 2009 as a homeland security official and was made de facto "border czar," he filed a personal financial document revealing he had been chairman of Silicon Border's “advisory board” for more than a year, from February 2008 until April 2009.
When he was nominated by president Barack Obama to head up U.S. Customs and Border Protection that fall, Bersin filed another statement, disclosing that he owned a promissory note from “Silicon Border Holding Company LLC” valued between $500,000 and $1 million.
Silicon Border CEO David J. Hill told us then that both Bersin and Burnham had owned shares in the project, saying of Bersin, "He was very helpful in making introductions to the community. He knows border law. He’s very smart.”
Burnham succeeded Bersin as head of Silicon Border's advisory board after the latter moved on to become head of U.S. Customs.
“I’ve been involved with Mexico for more than 50 years,” Burnham said in an interview in an October 2009 with Barbara Bry of San Diego News Network, a local news website.
“I started sailing to Acapulco when I was young, and I have a lot of friends in Mexico, I have active real estate investments and a home in Los Cabos. I like Mexico. Yet many Americans think Mexico is the enemy instead of a neighbor. It’s ridiculous. In the long term, we need to get bulldozers and tear down the fence.”
A friend and associate of the late border real estate investor Stan Foster, Bersin's father-in-law, Burnham had long backed Bersin's political and personal fortunes,
In 2000, when Bersin was superintendent of schools, Burnham gave $50,000 to a group calling itself the "Partnership for Student Achievement."
Other donors included Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad and Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs, now embroiled in a battle to retool the roads and parking of Balboa Park.
The committee spent an initial $545,000 on television commercials attacking Frances O’Neill Zimmerman, a board of education member and Bersin nemesis who was supported by the teachers’ union.
“This TV campaign to assassinate Zimmerman’s character is a raw exercise in power, impure and simple,” wrote Union-Tribune columnist Logan Jenkins. “Bersin may be far enough away to deny direct involvement, but why would the cleanup hitters be in the partnership’s lineup if they weren’t acting on his behalf?”
After Burnham’s and other contributions came to light, Zimmerman was narrowly re-elected.
A Point Loma resident, Burnham has also been a longtime business associate of Padres owner John Moores, another anti-Zimmerman donor and a one-time Democrat. Moores was once a partner in Burnham's real estate company.
But in spite of his dalliances with Democrats, Burnham has continued to pump big money into Republican causes.
And last year Burnham joined Buzz Woolley, the La Jolla financier, charter school advocate, and backer of the non-profit news operation Voice of San Diego, in backing the "Alliance of California Charter Schools" political committee. Each gave $6500.