The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission has handed a warning letter — but no fine — to a five-figure financial backer of the GOP Lincoln Club’s war of hit pieces against Nathan Fletcher last year. The backer failed to disclose his true identity.
As first reported here in December, a total of $37,000 in campaign contributions to the Lincoln Club and the county Republican party were listed on state disclosure reports as being made by Touchstone Golf, an Austin, Texas-based golf-course management company.
A major chunk of the cash was spent by the Lincoln Club on waves of mailers attacking Republican-turned-Democrat Fletcher and his employer Qualcomm, founded by La Jolla Democratic billionaire Irwin Jacobs.
Paul Jacobs, Qualcomm's then–chief executive, called the charges against Fletcher and the company, made during last year’s mayoral primary campaign, "slanderous.”
When reached by phone regarding his contributions to the controversial hit pieces, Touchstone chief Steve Harker denied making them.
After further investigation, Harker called back to say that the funds originated from an entity by the name of Stuck in the Rough, LLC, which, he explained, owns the Escondido Country Club and has had a management deal with Touchstone.
“They asked us to send out the checks from their account, and we did,” Harker said, referring to a checking account he said his firm maintained for the now-defunct golf course.
Harker said that Touchstone would take steps to correct the reports filed with the California secretary of state and San Diego city clerk’s offices. It is illegal to report false donor names on campaign disclosure filings.
Stuck in the Rough, a Beverly Hills–based limited liability company run by Los Angeles–based Michael Schlesinger, had been locked in a battle with Escondido residents to build a residential development on a golf course in that city.
Following word here that Stuck in the Rough’s Lincoln Club contributions had not been reported, the Fair Political Political Practices Commission opened an investigation, as outlined in a letter last month from enforcement chief Gary Winuk to Stuck in the Rough lawyer James Sutton.
The FPPC found that contributions from your client, Michael Schlesinger dba Stuck in the Rough, LLC, were misidentified as coming from Stuck in the Rough's management company Touchstone Golf.
Your law firm has since filed, on January 30, 2014, and January 31, 2014, three Late Contribution Reports on behalf of Stuck in the Rough under the name "Michael Schlesinger and Affiliated Entities."
Your client's actions violated the Act because its contributions were made in the name of Touchstone Golf rather than the true source and also because three required Late Contribution Reports were not timely filed.
Without mentioning that the donor's true identity was first revealed by Touchstone's Harker in December, Winuk said Stuck in the Rough would get off without a fine because Schlesinger had acknowledged in January that he was the source of the money.
San Diego has a long history of political money laundering by real estate developers and other special interests, many lightly penalized, reaching back to the days of fallen GOP mayor Roger Hedgecock.
Federal prosecutors are currently pursuing a case related to allegedly illegal campaign spending on behalf of various local politicos by Mexican national José Susumo Azano Matsura.