Yet another chapter in the byzantine history of the wandering football team known as the Chargers has begun with the recruitment by Dean Spanos of Fred Maas to come up with a taxpayer-subsidized scheme for a new stadium.
Now it remains to be seen how successfully Maas can live down his past.
When last generally heard of, Maas was beating a hasty retreat from the glare of an ethics investigation into an alleged plot to trash the reputation of then–city councilman and mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio with the fruits of opposition research he had quietly funded through an obscure group called Spotlight San Diego.
As first reported by the Union-Tribune in March 2013, "The group — financially backed by businessman Fred Maas — spent more than $33,000 to hire a true-crime author to dig up dirt on DeMaio, which resulted in a 200-plus page dossier of court records and other documents that was distributed to nearly every local media outlet in early 2012 on the condition of anonymity."
The paper recounted, "The information dredged up went largely unreported because many in the media considered it old, irrelevant and an untoward attempt to draw attention to DeMaio’s homosexuality during the race. The records focused mainly on legal problems involving his partner — San Diego Gay & Lesbian News Publisher Johnathan Hale."
The alleged Maas plan to sully DeMaio involved funneling $13,000 of his own money, along with $10,000 from the city firefighters’ union and $5000 each from the Sycuan gambling tribe and Municipal Employees Association, another city worker’s union, through Spotlight San Diego, without filing legally required campaign-finance reports.
Maas contended Spotlight was "an independent for-profit journalism venture and wasn’t a political operation conducting opposition research," and therefore not subject to political disclosure laws, the U-T reported.
“I still believe to this day that what we were doing was providing a good public service," the paper quoted Maas as saying.
At the time, the U-T was owned by Republican kingpin Douglas Manchester, who had backed the GOP's DeMaio for mayor over Democrat Bob Filner and Republican-turned-Democrat Nathan Fletcher, and some accused the paper of going overboard in its investigation of the Maas transgressions.
But the sheer mass of material the paper unearthed from the dark warrens of city hall via the public records act was hard to ignore.
"The trail begins with a Sept. 18, 2011, email from [mayor Jerry] Sanders aide and former U-T reporter Gerry Braun to Phil Rath, president of Public Policy Strategies, with a seven-page scope-of-work document for investigator Caitlin Rother to 'research San Diego mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio,'” the story recounted.
"Rath’s firm is co-owned by political consultant Tom Shepard, who was running Fletcher’s campaign at the time."
Reported the paper, "In a Feb. 13, 2012, email, Rother indicated the work was complete and that the packets were being printed by Public Policy Strategies. She also suggested trimming the packet for 'time-strapped and/or lazy reporters.'”
After the June 2012 primary, in which DeMaio placed first, followed by Filner, with Fletcher out of the money, Rother wrote, "For now I think my job is done, the info did get out, albeit not as widely as we would have liked, and it looks like the media just won’t bite anymore."
In light of Maas's new role in the Chargers campaign to arrange public money for a new stadium, including an option in downtown's East Village, the history of his DeMaio antipathy has again become of interest.
"The two men had a famous row during a Nov. 15, 2010, City Council meeting over legislation that then-Assemblyman Fletcher successfully carried to eliminate the cap on how much the Centre City Development Corp. could spend on downtown redevelopment," noted the U-T in 2013.
"DeMaio grilled Maas, who was CCDC chairman at the time, for refusing to say how the bill he consulted on had come about. At one point, Maas told DeMaio, 'I’m not sure what ethics they taught you on (Comet) Hale-Bopp, wherever you came from…' That prompted DeMaio to suggest Maas should be fired."
Much of the extra tax money resulting from Fletcher's redevelopment bill was able to be earmarked for a new downtown Chargers stadium, county supervisor Ron Roberts told the Union-Tribune in November 2010.
State redevelopment financing was subsequently abolished by the legislature, but a big chunk of downtown real estate previously acquired by the city remains in play, and a key portion of Maas's role is expected by insiders to involve trying to wrangle the parcel as part of a sweetheart deal with Republican mayor Kevin Faulconer.
Maas avoided an ethics rap in the anti-DeMaio case by reaching a deal with the ethics commission to disclose the contributions made to his Spotlight San Diego, while not admitting his effort was reportable political activity.
Former ethics commissioner Gil Cabrera, who was retained by the commission to handle the Maas case investigation, told the U-T in 2013, "From my point of view, once I determined that this was a political purpose that was being done here, my primary goal was to make sure we got disclosure, and that’s what we got."
In a March 2013 interview, Cabrera told the Reader that he charged $250 an hour for his services, "a considerable discount [from] my regular rate."
Ethics commission executive director Stacey Fulhorst subsequently refused to release records of the concluded investigation, casting a further shadow of intrigue over an already murky case.
Currently running for city attorney, Cabrera has long been a close friend of Mark Fabiani, the Chargers special counsel who is partnered with Maas in the team's latest San Diego stadium site search.
Last July, after Fabiani kicked in $500 to his city attorney bid, Cabrera said, "Mark’s an old friend. As you’ll see when the full report [of contributors] comes out, I have support from a lot of different people.”