The changing of Sacramento’s mayoral guard occurs this week, with the exit of Kevin Johnson, once a municipal wunderkind, now tarred by a graphically documented sex scandal and a series of political funny-money charity deals.
Formerly a player for pro basketball's Phoenix Suns, Johnson's arguably most famous achievement as mayor was spearheading the drive to build the $558 million Golden 1 Center to keep the Sacramento Kings from leaving town.
He helped pull the city's big-money strings to pay for the venture, including putting up downtown parking revenue and a deal to let team owners build giant video billboards adjacent to local freeways.
"The legal carve-out allows the Kings to offer team sponsors prime advertising space in front of hundreds of thousands of eyes daily on freeways throughout the city," noted a May 15, 2014, story in the Sacramento Bee.
"The billboard arrangement is part of the 2,000-plus pages of arena agreements and associated documents negotiated over the past year between the city and the Kings," the paper added.
Among the chief financial beneficiaries of the project are three La Jolla–based sons of Qualcomm cofounder and Democratic billionaire Irwin Jacobs — Paul, Jeff, and Hal, whose 2013 investment in the team got them named revolving vice-chairmen of the venture, headed by Silicon Valley billionaire Vivek Ranadive.
On December 31, 2014, city financial disclosure records show that two of the Jacobs brothers, Hal and Paul, each anted up $3200 to help pay bills arising from Johnson's 2012 reelection campaign, as did Kerry McReynolds, listed as an assistant at Qualcomm. Through May and August of last year, the three Jacobs brothers each gave another $3200 to Johnson's mayoral campaign fund, as did Hal's wife Debby.
The well-timed Jacobs family gifts to Johnson came a year before Paul Jacobs and a raft of fellow Qualcomm executives contributed to the mayoral reelection fund of San Diego's Kevin Faulconer just prior to and after a closed-door summit held by the mayor with family patriarch Irwin Jacobs over his plan to bulldoze a new road and parking garage through Balboa Park, adopted last month by the city council.
In addition to the Jacobs money, Johnson's 2012 reelection bid got funding from another San Diego sports mogul — Chargers owner and president Dean Spanos, now said to be possibly packing for a move to L.A. after losing his own local stadium bid.
Spanos gave the Johnson campaign a total of $5000 in December 2011 and January 2012, records show.
Former San Diego Unified schools chief Alan Bersin, another controversial San Diego figure, came up with $1500 for Johnson's initial mayoral run in 2008.
Like Bersin a charter-school advocate and friend of the Jacobs clan, Johnson got engaged in November 2009, to Michelle Rhee, a high-profile self-styled education reformer, marrying her two years later.
Johnson faced a fierce round of political heat in September 2012 when the Bee reported that a committee the mayor had set up to promote an earlier version of the new basketball arena had been funded by contributions supplied to a mayoral foundation by then-owners of the Kings and other interests.
He was socked with a $37,500 penalty by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission for failing to report the gifts in a timely manner.
The mayor later became enmeshed in yet another charity fundraising case in February 2014, this one involving incorrectly reported gifts made by the Walton Family Foundation to fund Johnson's 2012 personal travel expenses to educational conferences; that transgression drew a $1000 FPPC fine.
Like Johnson, San Diego’s Faulconer also relies on a nonprofit, called One San Diego, using it to fund his annual turkey giveaways and other forays to poorer parts of the city with funding from AT&T, Sempra, and other big corporations doing business at city hall.