Tale of a stealthy super PAC

Mystery money from the Pala Indian band helped Dave Roberts stomp Steve Danon for county supervisor.
  • Mystery money from the Pala Indian band helped Dave Roberts stomp Steve Danon for county supervisor.

Tale of a stealthy super PAC. During the days leading up to last month’s election, a mail piece was dispatched to voters in San Diego’s third county supervisorial district, where Republican Steve Danon was facing off against Democrat Dave Roberts. The mailer, described by recipients as touting Roberts and dissing Danon, was sent by an outfit called USA PAC of Kalamazoo, Michigan. But that was all voters knew.

After the election, which Roberts narrowly won, the mystery only deepened. With the exception of the Danon-Roberts showdown, USA PAC spent its money on federal races, including a primary campaign battle earlier this year against Tennessee GOP congresswoman Diane Black.

Conservative Texas construction mogul Leo Linbeck III is linked to the PAC that spent the Pala money.

Conservative Texas construction mogul Leo Linbeck III is linked to the PAC that spent the Pala money.

Originally known as Congressional Elections PAC, USA PAC has been linked by Mother Jones to Texas construction mogul Leo Linbeck, III, who has described himself as a “conservative communitarian.” In the Tennessee race, USA PAC favored Black’s GOP primary rival, Tea Party activist Lou Ann Zelenik, according to an account in USA Today; money for USA PAC’s campaign against Black came from Andrew Miller, a Zelenik ally, the paper said. Zelenik lost to Black, who was subsequently reelected this fall. But another Linbeck-backed PAC, the Campaign for Primary Accountability, did prevail against eight-term Texas Democratic congressman Silvestre Reyes, who lost his primary to conservative insurgent Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke. “They don’t want to just ‘level the playing field’ as they claim. They want to buy seats in Congress for the super rich,” Reyes spokesman Jose Borbon said after the May primary. O’Rourke went on to win the general election.

Meanwhile, back in San Diego, the GOP’s Danon was duking it out in a close race with Democrat Roberts. On November 1, USA PAC filed a disclosure statement with the county registrar of voters here revealing that the Michigan-based PAC spent $30,000 on a direct-mail piece for Roberts. But the source of cash behind the mailer was not revealed until weeks after the election. On November 14, the Federal Election Commission wrote USA PAC treasurer Jonathan Martin, warning the committee about its failure to submit a legally required pre-election funding disclosure. “It is important that you file this report immediately,” the FEC said. “The failure to file a timely report can result in civil monetary penalties, an audit, or legal enforcement action.”

Finally, on November 20, USA PAC disclosed that the committee’s last-minute $30,000 direct-mail campaign on behalf of Democrat Roberts had been paid for not by a GOP corporate donor, but by a source with equally deep pockets: the Pala Band of Mission Indians. If there are any ties between conservative Texas Republican Linbeck and the California tribe, which runs a big hotel and casino resort off the I-15 freeway in North County, no one is saying. The tribe endorsed Roberts in April. “I am very proud to receive the endorsement of the Pala Band of Mission Indians,” Roberts said in a release at the time. “They are an extremely important part of our County’s history, and I look forward to having the honor of working with them.” Reached last week by phone, USA PAC’s treasurer Jonathan Martin said he was not authorized to speak for the committee; he said a spokesman for Linbeck would return the call, but none did. A phone message left at the Linbeck-associated American Strategic Analysis & Performance political consulting firm — listed as the contractor for the $30,000 California mail piece on USA PAC’s federal disclosure filing — was not returned. Pala tribal chairman John H. Smith also did not respond to a request for comment.

Share / Tools

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • AddThis
  • Email

More from SDReader


I have a big, big, big problem with Indian tribes involving themselves in elections. Those tribes claim sovereignty when it suits them, but when it suits them they jump into local politics. Now that these bands or tribes are in the "gaming" business, a very lucrative business to be sure, they have plenty of reasons to want friendly faces in local political office. What better way to do that than help the friendlies get elected?

In case anyone misses the point, this nation does not allow other nations (sovereign nations, that is) to put money or other campaign effort into elections. Our elections are for our own citizens to decide, not foreigners or foreign corporations. But inasmuch as the tribes claim sovereignty from usual political rule, so should they be prohibited from engaging in political activity of any sort.

visdun, you're not quite correct. Native Americans have a form of sovereignty that comes with conditions imposed upon them by the paternalistic federal government long ago. Tribes are domestic sovereigns. It's a unique relationship, confirmed in a number of US Supreme Court rulings. Reservations are sort of like military bases in the U.S. If you live on a military base, you are still a US Citizen (as tribal members are), have to abide by most of the the laws US (same with tribes) and don't pay all the same taxes while on the Base (as with on the Reservation), etc. And saying that tribes should not be involved in the political process isn't fair, since that same political process can work for or against tribes. Remember: Voters in California approved tribal gaming. So it was the non-Native political structure that claimed the right to grant the tribes the ability to have gaming on their Reservations. By the same logic, I suppose that means they can also take it away. So, yes, there's some degree of Sovereignty, but they are at the same time US citizens and should be allowed to participate in the political structure that can be used for or against them, just like any other group in this country.

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