Gauntlets are being hurled, but who is footing the bill of the throwers?
The question is being asked by those tracking the byzantine political money war over a new tax-funded downtown luxury venue for the San Diego Chargers.
On one side is team owner Dean Spanos and the National Football League, whose commissioner Roger Goodell showed up at last month's kickoff rally for the signature drive to put the team's $1.8 billion subsidized-stadium plan on November's ballot.
Disclosure reports on file with the city clerk show Spanos has already dumped more than a million dollars of the team’s money into the effort, with more millions expected to be required to obtain enough signatures to qualify for a public vote and finance a costly election campaign this fall.
In addition, Spanos and the NFL's Gridiron PAC, which raises millions of dollars for its congressional favorites, have contributed to Republican congressman Darrell Issa, a league favorite on the Hill, who has endorsed the San Diego subsidy plan.
Implacably opposed to the scheme is GOP city-council candidate Ray Ellis of La Jolla's District 1, who has been blasting away at the team in emailed news releases.
“The Chargers are trying to prop up their stadium tax with a convention center annex that already has been rejected by Comic-Con and the San Diego Convention Center,” Ellis was quoted as saying in a March 30 statement.
“Most of the people I talk to in La Jolla, Carmel Valley, University City and elsewhere — they want their roads fixed, and they lost patience with the Chargers a long time ago.”
Added the release, "In addition to opposing the tax increase, Ellis says the Chargers plan would hurt San Diego’s tourism economy by increasing hotel taxes to 16.5 percent, among the highest in the country, and reducing the revenue used to market San Diego. Ellis also believes the Chargers are running out the clock on San Diego and are not genuinely interested in building a stadium."
About two weeks later, on April 16, the Lincoln Club of San Diego County, a bastion of the local GOP establishment noted for its cascades of election-season hit pieces, filed to create a new political action committee on behalf of the Ellis candidacy, called Neighborhoods, Not Stadiums.
No doubt the timing was coincidental, as campaign law forbids such so-called independent committees from coordinating their activities with candidates and their controlled committees.
On May 5, the club put $100,000 into the account, and a day later began spending for a forthcoming mail piece, with costs totaling $27,605, including a $22,000 deposit for postage.
Who is coming up with the money?
The Lincoln Club's most recent financial disclosure statement, filed with the county registrar of voters April 27, shows the group raised $187,125 from the beginning of this year through April 23, giving it a cash balance of $194,049.
Major donors included KUSI owner Mike McKinnon, with $2500 on April 18; San Diego Magazine with $2500 on the same date; port commissioner Marshall Merrifield, with $2500 on March 29, and influence-peddler Christopher Neils of the Sheppard, Mullin law firm, with $1250 on February 8.
The Sheppard firm, a downtown lobbying powerhouse with ties to the hotel industry, came up with $1250 on the same day.
Other donations came from Rancho Guejito, the sprawling North County property that has sought extensive residential and commercial development permits, with $5000 on March 24, and the San Diego Restaurant and Beverage PAC, with $2500 on February 1.
Chula Vista mayor Cheryl Cox and her husband, county supervisor Greg Cox, gave a combined $1750 in March. Ex-GOP assemblywoman Shirley Horton kicked in $2500 January 1.
The club’s biggest single contributor was Tom Sudberry, the Mission Valley super-developer, with $10,000 on January 7. A day later, Sudberry's son Colton gave $1250. Sudberry vice president of development Marco Sessa, came up with $1250 on January 15.
On March 21, the senior Sudberry gave an additional $5000, bringing his personal contribution for the period to a total of $15,000.
Last spring, Sudberry and his employees joined other Mission Valley interests in contributing to the legal defense fund of Democratic city councilwoman Myrtle Cole, who voted for GOP mayor Kevin Faulconer's $1.1 million environmental impact report to build a new taxpayer-subsidized Chargers stadium on the old Qualcomm site.
Though scorned by Spanos, the Mission Valley proponents promoted the mayor's high-dollar stadium-subsidy plan as a way of permitting mega-density residential and commercial development at the Qualcomm locale.