There's an old saying among longtime political insiders: campaign committees can be a lot kinder than slot machines.
They sometimes pay off as hoped for.
So it is now for Carl DeMaio, the ex–San Diego city councilman and failed mayoral candidate currently running against freshman Democratic congressman Scott Peters in the generally well-heeled 52nd District.
A year ago, as the brief mayoral tenure of Democrat Bob Filner began falling apart in a sexual harassment scandal, the ambitious Republican turned to a committee he called “Reform San Diego with Carl DeMaio.”
The fund had been set up previously by DeMaio to pursue his political causes, mainly funded by real-estate developers and other special interests having high-stakes business at city hall.
Last July, with a Filner recall in progress, DeMaio committee treasurer April Boling asked Stacey Fulhorst, chief executive of the San Diego ethics commission, about whether it was legal to use Reform San Diego as a source of funds for a poll to ascertain DeMaio's chances in a second try for mayor.
"Reform San Diego may pay for a purely exploratory poll," Fulhorst responded, according to a July 30, 2013 email retrieved from the city under the California Public Records Act.
"In the event that Carl became a candidate in the recall, his mayoral committee would have to reimburse Reform San Diego for all the costs associated with the poll. (Because Carl is the principal of Reform San Diego, he clearly has access to the polling data.)
"Reform San Diego may not pay for a poll that contains any type of advocacy, including listing Carl's qualifications for office. Such expenditures would essentially constitute an unlawful in-kind contribution from a committee/organization to a City candidate."
DeMaio went ahead with the poll, but, as it turned out, a group of San Diego GOP bigwigs preempted his desire by anointing then–city councilman Kevin Faulconer as the party's mayoral hopeful, and DeMaio, who had already declared for Congress against Peters, remained in that race.
To pay off the bills left over from his mayoral opinion survey, DeMaio set up a separate committee he called the “Carl DeMaio for Mayor Research Expense Settlement Fund,” to which he personally loaned $23,000 last September 6, its disclosure shows. The committee paid Tarrance Group Inc. of Alexandria, Virginia, $22,341, according to an October 9 filing with the city clerk's office.
To reimburse himself for the cost of funding the poll, the former councilman subsequently hit up a variety of old political friends, including real-estate developer, GOP kingpin, and U-T San Diego publisher Douglas Manchester, who came up with $990 on September 16.
Contributions made during March and April of this year to the “research settlement fund” included $1000 each from Corky Mizer of Corky's Pest Control, Stuart Posnock of apartment giant Garden Communities, Mission Valley real-estate magnate Tom Suberry, and Michael Schlesinger, the Stuck in the Rough principal who has been warring with neighbors of his proposed Escondido residential development. Jane Sudberry gave $1000.
Meanwhile, DeMaio has also been collecting personal funds from his earlier political committee, Reform San Diego.
According to a July 8 filing, Reform San Diego repaid DeMaio $18,107.06, bringing to zero the balance on a $50,000 loan he had personally made to the committee back in March 2011. Other final expenses of the fund included $1005 paid to political technology vendor Aristotle International and $250 to the ubiquitous Boling.
Cash to make the payouts came from the contributions of DeMaio backers, including those this year of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, with $1500, and Carlsbad marketing guru Kelly Mikules, with $3400.
On December 27 of last year, Reform San Diego picked up $10,000 from Chris Allen and India Rowe, listed on the disclosure as owners of Escondido's Echo Pacific Construction.
This April, Echo Pacific was among a group of contractors and architects that agreed to repay $642,000 related to a "pay-to-play" scandal at the Southwestern Community College District.
"The action is settled without an admission of fault,” Jeff Baird, identified as an attorney for Echo Pacific Construction, was quoted as saying about the deal with the college. A citizens group is still suing.