While locals argue about whether or not Kevin Faulconer is really a new-era Republican, big money from the nation's tobacco lobby and other well-heeled corporate interests appears ready to roll into the mayor's already cash-packed reelection bid.
A political nonprofit out of Glen Allen, Virginia, calling itself Community Leaders of America — financially backed by some of America's biggest corporations, including retailer Walmart, tobacco giants R.J. Reynolds and Altria, along with trash haulers Waste Management and Republic Services — has set up campaign shop here.
In a May 11 disclosure filing with the city clerk, the GOP group is coy about what specifically it is doing in San Diego, except to say that it will be "carrying on one or more exempt functions defined under Sec. 527 of the [Internal Revenue Code]."
That section defines an "exempt function" as "the function of influencing or attempting to influence the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of any individual to any Federal, State, or local public office or office in a political organization,"
Though unknown to most San Diegans, Community Leaders has been all in for Faulconer, amplifying his talking points and promoting his “One San Diego” theme though its website.
The group's Facebook page currently highlights a puffy May 10 item by San Francisco public TV station KQED, headlined “San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer Paves Potential GOP Road to Relevance.”
In the story, Sara Libby, managing editor of the Voice of San Diego, is quoted as saying that Faulconer “worked really hard to advance this idea that all neighborhoods in San Diego matter; low-income, minority neighborhoods, they deserve investment too. I think he’s been able to succeed in San Diego because of that.”
The Community Leaders mayors’ caucus is chaired by Betsy Price, the GOP mayor of Fort Worth, Texas.
“I look forward to working with my fellow Conservative municipal elected officials to take advantage of the opportunities to grow and expand the Republican Mayors and City Council caucus,” Price said in a statement following her selection.
Price's part in the political operation has drawn fire from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which opined in a January editorial that, "taking a partisan side is always detrimental for any mayor or City Council member."
Added the paper, "Yes, Price might enlist the Community Leaders to help convince the heavily Republican Texas Legislature not to limit cities or push more costs to the local level. But if Price’s goal is to elect more Republicans, that is time she should spend working on the needs of all Fort Worth."
Tim Barnes, the president of Community Leaders, also has encountered controversy, having resigned the chairmanship of the Republican State Leadership Committee in a confidential deal that followed a September 2011 report alleging fundraising shenanigans at the group, according to a Politico report of August 2014.
"The [Republican State Leadership Committee] is a prime example of the rise of free-spending and largely opaque groups that have taken center stage in national politics over the last few election cycles," noted the story.
In addition to $55,000 of tobacco-industry money, $10,000 from Walmart, and $35,000 from waste haulers, Community Leaders of America reported receiving $10,000 from banking giant Citigroup, $10,000 from the Edison Electric Institute, $10,000 from AT&T Services, $10,000 from payday lender Check into Cash, and $15,000 from the America Beverage Association Fund for Consumer Choice, according to a first-quarter disclosure report filed with the IRS April 18.
Those contributions, along with other big money, including $10,000 from major airline lobbying group Airlines for America, totaled $243,500 for the first three months of the year, the report says.