Political Tithing

— After that hot trudge across the parking lot to wait in the long lines at the gates of the San Diego County Fair, do you dream of being appointed to the board of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, otherwise known as the Del Mar Fair board? The nine members, though unpaid, are compensated in other ways, with preferential parking, special access to the fair and Del Mar track, free admission to events, plenty of booze at parties, pampering from fair board staff, and many other perks too numerous to mention. But there is a price to be paid, check made payable to the various campaign funds controlled by the governor of California, who awards the coveted fair board appointments.

Take the case of Poway's Kelly Burt, chairman and chief executive officer of Price Self Storage, one of the many enterprises associated with La Jolla's Sol Price. This February 15, Republican Burt contributed $22,300 to Arnold Schwarzenegger's reelection fund. On June 2, the governor announced that Burt would be reappointed to the fair board. Schwarzenegger first appointed Burt to the board on May 25, 2005, after Burt contributed $50,000 to the pro-Schwarzenegger "Citizens to Save California Coalition" on April 7 of that year.

The same day Burt was originally named to the board, Schwarzenegger also appointed Rancho Santa Fe's Vivian Hardage. In October 2003, her husband Sam, a hotel magnate and longtime local GOP kingmaker, had given Schwarzenegger, then a candidate in the Gray Davis recall election, $21,200.

And then there was Brent Wilkes, the defense contractor under investigation for bribery in the Randy "Duke" Cunningham case. Appointed to the fair board by Schwarzenegger on April 7, 2004, Wilkes had given the then-gubernatorial candidate $21,200 on September 9, 2003. In all, Wilkes gave the governor $70,000 before becoming enveloped in the Cunningham scandal.

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