Sempra's Murphy juice

— The struggling reelection campaign of San Diego mayor Dick Murphy has been getting some under-the-table financial support from Sempra Energy, the utility giant that owns San Diego Gas & Electric and depends on Murphy's friendship to assist it in a variety of regulatory matters. The scheme works this way: two weeks ago, on October 15, the San Diego County Republican Central Committee paid $44,161.61 to Lemon Grove-based Western Graphics for mailings "to support Friends of Mayor Dick Murphy," according to the committee's latest campaign-disclosure report filed in Sacramento. That same day, Sempra wrote a $75,000 check to the central committee. Under city law, donations to Murphy's official campaign committee are limited to $250 each, and corporations like Sempra are prohibited from giving any money at all. To get around those restrictions, Sempra and other big donors are taking advantage of a loophole in state law that allows groups like the GOP to make "independent expenditures" in support of mailers and other material aimed at their "members" -- in other words, registered Republican voters. The same ploy is being used in races for the board of the San Diego Unified School District, where on October 7 the Lincoln Club, another group of GOP fat cats, purchased $33,850 worth of radio advertisements in support of Miyo Reff, who is favored by chief Alan Bersin over her opponent Mitz Lee. The Lincoln Club reports it spent another $21,000 in radio spots promoting another board candidate, Sharon Whitehurst-Payne, who is running in a different district. Subsequent filings show that the club has so far spent more than $100,000 for Reff and $31,000 for Whitehurst-Payne. If both candidates win, insiders say, San Diego's GOP establishment will be in a position to gain the crucial fourth board vote it has long craved to allow the sell-off of large amounts of district real estate to developers.

Job preservation movement It turns out that civic watchdog Mel Shapiro isn't the only one spending money to defeat Prop F, the measure on San Diego's ballot that would abolish the city's traditional city-manager form of government in favor of a strong mayor. Last week foes of F picked up $15,000 from the Washington, D.C.-based International City/County Management Association, which bills itself as a "professional and educational organization for chief appointed managers, administrators, and assistants." The California City Management Foundation, which anted up another $5000, says its purpose is to foster the "well being of city managers." Ex-city manager Jack McGrory, who now works for La Jolla financier and Democrat Sol Price -- who signed the ballot argument against Prop F -- gave $1000. Those on the other side of the issue include Padres owner John Moores and Carl DeMaio, a self-billed government efficiency expert who so far has raised $150,000 for a campaign committee in favor of Prop F and against Prop J, the hotel room tax increase backed by Mayor Dick Murphy.

DeMaio's committee has also taken positions on three other city ballot measures. DeMaio has personally contributed $85,000, and his Performance Institute has given $15,000, according to campaign-finance filings. The balance of $50,000 has come from Summit Resources and the Taxpayer Protection Association. Both entities have the same address: the 33rd floor of the Hyatt Grand Regency Hotel downtown, which just happens to be the nerve center of hotel mogul Doug Manchester and his sprawling real estate empire. State records list Republican Manchester, who opposes the hotel tax, as president of Summit. In addition, another Manchester entity, the Mighty 1090 sports radio station, has been giving free spots to the Yes-on-F effort. On a related front, Prop F insiders are blaming ex-mayor Maureen O'Connor for the Union-Tribune's editorial opposition to the measure. The paper has long editorialized in favor of a strong-mayor system, and the insiders claim that O'Connor intervened with publisher David Copley, her close friend, to order a flip-flop after the August death of his mother Helen. O'Connor did not respond to phone messages.

Borderline If those Mexican migrant-bashing messages from GOP assembly candidate Tricia Hunter sound like the commercials in favor of controversial anti-migrant Proposition 187 back in 1996, there may be a reason. George Gorton, onetime political guru to Pete Wilson, who masterminded the Prop 187 campaign that featured TV spots of immigrants storming the Tijuana border crossing, is a key Hunter strategist ... Just in case someone wants to know, Jim Bell, San Diego's perennial "pro-environment" mayoral candidate who has yet to make it past any primary election, has endorsed Ron Roberts over Donna Frye and Dick Murphy. In an e-mail to supporters he says, "I didn't endorse Donna because: She

didn't ask me. Ron and Dick did." Bell added, "To her credit, Donna did vote against a number of things I would have voted against, but you can't run a city by just saying no to stupid things."

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