Breaking Stories

High flyers Top members of the San Diego airport authority's board have been traveling in style. Example number one: when Bill Lynch, Joe Craver, and Xema Jacobson went back to Washington this February in a failed attempt to persuade the Pentagon to play ball with their plans to move the airport from Lindbergh to Miramar, board travel records obtained under the state's Public Records Act reveal they all flew first class.

That same month Jacobson, Lynch, and fellow board member Paul Nieto went to Sacramento for a one-day lobbying trip on all-coach Southwest Airlines. But they threw a lavish reception for San Diego legislators and their staffs at K Street's trendy Buddha Bar and lunched in the private Captain's Room at the Broiler, which bills itself as "Sacramento's definitive steakhouse since 1950."

This January there was an excursion to Kona, Hawaii, to attend a four-day "aviation issues" conference. Jacobson's first-class ticket on Hawaiian Airlines cost $2492. She stayed at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, where her room was $235 a night, and she charged expenses such as $38.41 at the Beach Bar (writing on the invoice, "no alcohol...no receipt"). A $194.79 Saturday dinner at the hotel included a $35 bottle of Kendall-Jackson chardonnay and two lobster plates totaling $104. Another dinner at the resort included a $32 order of mahimahi, $22 for pork tenderloin, and $20 for "Chicken." Jacobson's rental car cost $240, plus $17.78 for gas. A lunch meeting was held with Congressman Joe Knollenberg, and a dinner included staffers for California Democratic senator Barbara Boxerand West Virginia Democratic senator Jay Rockefeller.

Not all members of the delegation went first class. One exception was Lemon Grove city councilwoman Mary Sessom, a board member, who flew coach; San Diego city councilman Tony Young, another board member, also flew coach.

Brian's buddies The identities of last-minute contributors to political campaigns often turn out to be of more than passing interest -- sometimes because they have something to hide. And plenty of late money arrived in the coffers of Brian Bilbray, the ex- Imperial Beach mayor and former congressman who came in second to Democrat Francine Busby in last week's 50th Congressional District primary.

Much of the money has a familiar theme. On April 8 the Chickasaw Nation, an Oklahoma Indian tribe with casino interests, kicked in $5000. On March 31, the Rely on Your Beliefs Fund, run by Republican whip Roy Blunt, gave $5000.

Then there was the Promoting Republicans You Can Elect Project, operated by Ohio Republican congresswoman Deborah Pryce, which gave Bilbray $5000, also on March 31. Campaign disclosure records show that Pryce's fund received a total of $8000 in contributions in 2002 and 2004 from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, both of which were clients of fallen GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Last November the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that in 2003 Pryce and Blunt wrote letters, allegedly drafted by Abramoff, to Interior Secretary Gale Norton opposing a Louisiana casino proposal. A Pryce staffer told the paper that Pryce was doing a favor for another Republican, Louisiana's Jim McCrery, and had no knowledge of Abramoff's role.

Yet another beneficiary of Abramoff money, Alaska GOP congressman Don Young's Midnight Sun Political Action Committee, gave Bilbray $2500 on March 30. This January, the Anchorage Daily News reported that since 1999, tribes linked to Abramoff have given Young $20,000, most of it channeled into the Midnight Sun PAC. Young also used Abramoff's luxury skybox at Washington's MCI Center for fund-raisers, the paper said.

Making law A small reclamation district in the Central Valley has been getting attention from San Diego Democratic assemblywoman Lori Saldaña. As recounted last month by Jeff Hood, Lodi bureau chief of the Stockton Record, Saldaña introduced a bill that would promise "a more open and fair process in contested elections" in special districts. The reported target of the legislation: Reclamation District 348, covering 10,000 dusty acres of northwestern San Joaquin County, including the tiny town of Thornton. Big landowners have long controlled the district board because its three members are selected by elections in which property owners cast one vote for every acre they own. Saldaña and Republican Guy Houston of Livermore want to expand board membership to five, with at least three of those elected by popular vote in Saldaña's version and two in Houston's. But why is Saldaña so interested in a place far from her San Diego district? Turns out Saldaña heard about the issue through one of her staffers whose parents lived in Thornton.

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