Fair and foul plays

— As the clock ticked down this summer on the final campaign for Gray Davis, the embattled California governor turned to some old friends from La Jolla for some last-minute financial support. Campaign-disclosure records show that Merjan Financial contributed $10,000 to Davis on August 22. Merjan is run by William Barkett, heir to a wealthy Stockton family with close ties to Davis and his former boss, ex-governor Jerry Brown, as well as to Brown's father, the late governor Pat Brown, and San Francisco mayor and former assembly speaker Willie Brown (unrelated to the other two Browns). On election day, October 7, 46 days after Merjan gave its money to his campaign, Davis appointed Barkett's wife Lisa Ann -- Merjan's vice president -- to the board of directors of the 22nd Agricultural Association, also known as the Del Mar Fair Board. Seats on the board have long been used as political plums and high-society stepping stones; plaintiff's lawyer Fred Schenk, brother of Davis chief of staff Lynn Schenk, was named to the board last December after he and members of his firm gave the governor at least $30,000 in campaign money. This year he kicked in another $10,000 to Davis's anti-recall committee. Though there's no salary, Del Mar Fair boardmembers get free admission to the annual San Diego County Fair, the Del Mar track and turf club, and hundreds of other ritzy events catering to Rancho Santa Fe's horsey set. To keep local newspaper and TV scribes compliant, each year the board throws a lavish open-bar media bash for favored reporters, complete with rock-and-roll bands and tables laden with catered gourmet fare. Besides her new position, Lisa Ann is also on the board of the Old Globe Theatre and the La Jolla Foundation. But Sacramento insiders are more interested in the role that Governor Davis may have played in her husband's legal dispute over settlement of a soured 1999 Central Valley deal involving Bill Barkett, his father Joe, their Merjan Financial, and Credit Suisse First Boston, which had lent Merjan millions of dollars to buy thousands of acres of farmland. After the venture failed, the bank accused him and his father of misappropriating millions for nonfarming purposes. Though Credit Suisse ultimately seized Merjan's 10,000 acres of land in foreclosure and the Barketts came away with a $10 million settlement for their trouble, farmworkers who had picked the crops were completely stiffed. As the transient workers waited in vain for the Davis-appointed labor commissioner to intervene on their behalf, another $550,000 of the settlement went to Byron Georgiou, a San Diego attorney who had once been legal-affairs secretary to Governor Jerry Brown, the Sacramento Bee reported. Over the years, the various Davis gubernatorial and anti-recall campaigns have collected at least $300,000 from the Barketts and related entities.

Sugar mom At least one San Diego spouse with ties to big money and political influence kicked in the maximum $21,200 to the campaign of governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger. Regina Wilkes of Poway is married to local GOP bigwig Brent Wilkes, proprietor of ADCS, a software outfit that has made millions of dollars on Pentagon contracts. Wilkes has close ties to Republican congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who reportedly has helped ADCS land major federal deals. Wilkes and a long list of his employees bundled thousands of dollars to county supervisor and Arnold-backer Ron Roberts in his failed run for San Diego mayor. Meanwhile, Democratic assemblyman Juan Vargas, said to be interested in a congressional bid, gave $3200 of his campaign funds to the gubernatorial bid of Cruz Bustamante. Vargas, criticized by privacy rights advocates for using his position on the assembly's Banking and Finance Committee to raise money from the insurance industry -- which is opposed to privacy legislation -- accepted more than 30 $250 contributions from various State Farm agents ... Democratic assemblywoman Christine Kehoe, running for state senate, has picked up $1000 from La Jollan Norm Blachford, the wealthy Canadian inventor who played sugar daddy to Hillcrest's infamous Andrew Cunanan, whose 1997 killing spree included Miami Beach fashion mogul Gianni Versace.

Future file A close associate of indicted San Diego city councilman Ralph Inzunza is being quietly touted to run for the San Diego Unified school board seat now held by Ron Ottinger: Ben Hueso, a city employee who runs the Barrio Logan redevelopment project ... Yes, that was City Attorney Casey Gwinn and chamber of commerce honcho Jessie Knight out on the sidewalk in front of downtown's Wyndham Hotel in an animated discussion about the Chargers and their desire to have the taxpayers pay for a new stadium. They had just attended a party for Randa Trapp, a Sempra lawyer appointed Superior Court judge by Gray Davis ... Chargers owner Alex Spanos is listed as executor of Bob Hope's will. The aging comedian used to fly into Lindbergh on a vintage Lockheed business jet for every home game of the old Greek's football team ... Right-of-center ABC-TV commentator John Stossel is working on a piece said to be critical of unionized gardeners at the San Diego Unified School District. Interested parties note that John Spelich, PR honcho at ABC parent Walt Disney Co., used to be head flack for district superintendent Alan Bersin, who opposes the union.

-- Matt Potter

Share / Tools

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • AddThis
  • Email

More from SDReader


Log in to comment

Skip Ad

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader