The layoffs have begun at Qualcomm, once cited as the future hope for San Diego's industrial and commercial independence from Los Angeles, and now but a flickering beacon in a murky morass of California media and politics.
A reported 1314 full-time jobs have been slashed in San Diego and thousands more are set to go across the mobile-phone technology company's mini-empire.
So far, though, Qualcomm's legions of lobbyists and other highly paid influence-peddling players have yet to take a similarly sized hit, with the reason said to be a continuing push to increase the issuance of visas to foreign workers.
According to numbers compiled by OpenSecrets.org, the high-tech firm has thus far this year spent a total of $4,560,000 on lobbying, compared with the $5,610,000 it paid influence peddlers in all of 2014.
Qualcomm's all-time lobbying expense record, $7,090,000, came in 2013, when the company — run by then-CEO Paul Jacobs, son of cofounder Irwin Jacobs — was seeking to change U.S. immigration laws to boost the issuance of so-called H-1B visas, allowing more foreign engineers to work in this country.
As part of its 2013 push, Qualcomm set up a group calling itself San Diegans United for Commonsense Immigration Reform, headed by Nathan Fletcher. The ex-Republican assemblyman had left the party in March 2012 after the GOP failed to endorse his run for San Diego mayor.
Despite hefty financial backing from the Jacobs clan and their allies, Fletcher lost the mayoral contest. He was subsequently hired by Qualcomm to oversee the company’s "Global Strategic Initiatives and Military/Veteran Affairs," according to his LinkedIn profile.
Turning Democrat in May 2013, Fletcher was still a self-proclaimed independent when he fronted the Qualcomm immigration group earlier that spring. (A 2012 TV spot touting Fletcher said, “He’s not a Democrat, he’s not a Republican, he’s an American.”)
"We have good paying, local jobs that are open today, and there are American educated workers who are qualified to fill those jobs, but each year, almost 20,000 American-educated degree holders are forced to leave our country to take jobs elsewhere,” Fletcher said at a March 13, 2013, news conference at Qualcomm headquarters.
The immigration group's members included Irwin and Paul Jacobs, district attorney Bonnie Dumanis, and Lorena Gonzalez, the future state Assembly Democrat who was then secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Labor Council.
2013's H-1B bill passed the Senate but got hung up in the House, leading to introduction of an even more controversial measure this year and the expenditure of millions more in Qualcomm lobbying dollars.
In addition to the company’s influence-peddling payments, Qualcomm employees have continued to give heavily to politicos from both parties in Washington and Sacramento. Since 2004, Jacobs family members alone have anted up more than $872,000 for federal races, including those of president Barack Obama and presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, according to Federal Election Commission data.
Though Fletcher placed third in his second San Diego mayoral try in November 2013, with continued backing from Qualcomm and the Jacobs clan, his profile has again been on the rise as next year's municipal races ramp up.
San Diego City Council candidate Barbra Bry of La Jolla, whose campaign has already received a total of $1100 from Jacobs and his wife Joan, along with $550 from Qualcomm government affairs vice president Shawn Covell, according to city records, is staging an October 21 fundraiser hosted by Fletcher called "High Tech and Biotech Leaders 2.0 for Barbara Bry."
"District 1 needs someone with Barbara Bry's background at City Hall, since it is the center of our region’s thriving high tech and biotech sectors," Fletcher says in an endorsement emailed by the Bry campaign.
Divorced earlier this year from Mindy Tucker, a Republican operative and former media aide to Republican president George W. Bush, Fletcher made TV news this week when NBC affiliate KNSD ran a Facebook photo of him with Lorena Gonzalez, his 2013 Qualcomm immigration task-force member.
"I'm happy to say this was a fabulous birthday!" Gonzalez said in the caption, according to the station's report.
"Thank you to all the wonderful wishes from family and friends.... And for my perfect dinner date Nathan Fletcher! Life is very good."
Mounting turmoil at the San Diego Union-Tribune in the wake of thus-far failed efforts by L.A. Democratic billionaire Eli Broad to grab control of the paper and its sister Los Angles Times from Chicago-based Tribune Publishing has caused speculation that Fletcher could ultimately be put up by the Jacobs family a third time for San Diego mayor.
The bid would come against GOP incumbent Kevin Faulconer, until recently regarded as a virtual shoo-in.
If Broad, a longtime friend and political ally of Irwin Jacobs, ultimately takes over the San Diego paper, this line of reasoning goes, he could drill down hard on the faults and foibles of Republican Faulconer, who has largely gotten a pass from present U-T management.
A big-money backer of nonprofit news operations here, Jacobs is seen as helping Broad orchestrate a new San Diego political order, favoring establishment Democrats backed by major real estate and high-tech money, including Fletcher and another Jacobs favorite, Democratic congressman Scott Peters
So far, though, Tribune is fighting the putative Broad buy-out, saying in a statement late Thursday that it won't part with the papers, as demanded by a growing chorus of L.A. critics.
"Our California News Group, which includes the Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune, is a cornerstone of our Company’s portfolio and a key component to our success in the future," according to the Tribune release.
"We affirm our confidence in the ability of Jack Griffin, Chief Executive Officer; Tim Ryan, Publisher & CEO of the California News Group; and the entire management team to execute our strategy, drive great journalism and create engaging and rewarding experiences for readers and marketing partners.”
As in the case of Qualcomm, layoffs are said to be on the way for the troubled company and its West Coast branch.