Shell game

It’s getting hard to tell who is financing whom in the increasingly combative races for San Diego city council and city attorney. As the jousting intensifies, so does the cost of campaigning, but not all of the money is showing up on financial disclosure reports filed by the candidates at city hall. Instead, much of the high-dollar campaigning is being done by ostensibly “independent committees” and political parties, which aren’t bound by the City’s ban on corporate contributions. Making things even less transparent, campaign cash can be given to one campaign committee and transferred to another, then another and another, ad infinitum, thereby further obscuring the source of the funds. This is handy for developers, city vendors, and other special interests seeking to back a favored candidate without disclosing the potentially embarrassing support.

Currently the most prominent example of the practice is the county Republican Central Committee. Though city council races are officially nonpartisan, in recent years both Democrats and Republicans have begun making endorsements in each district, allowing them to use a loophole in state law to “communicate” with party members who provide their preference when they sign up to vote. The so-called communication can range from doing polls to sending out hit pieces.

From January 1 through March 17, the local GOP spent a total of $107,400, of which $23,509 went to efforts backing Seventh District candidate April Boling, the party’s endorsed candidate who also serves as the GOP’s treasurer. Another $23,000 was spent on behalf of Jan Goldsmith, running against Mike Aguirre for city attorney.

During the same period, the Republicans took in $173,500. Fifty-one thousand dollars came from the San Diego Lodging Industry Association PAC, the party’s largest single donor; another $42,500 came from the San Diego Restaurant & Beverage PAC, the second-biggest contributor. Boling also happens to be treasurer of both of those committees. The biggest donors to the hotel group were Bartell Hotels ($22,035) and the Bahia Resort Hotel ($11,985), owned by La Jolla’s Evans family, which leases lucrative Mission Bay and Torrey Pines land from the City.

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