Tom Shepard started, and almost finished, his career as a political guru back in the1980s when he masterminded the victorious bid for mayor by Republican county supervisor Roger Hedgecock, subsequently brought down by the infamous J. David Dominelli and Nancy Hoover campaign money laundering scandal.
Charged in a 1984 felony indictment with slipping $380,000 of Dominelli's cash into Hedgecock's 1983 mayoral campaign through a newly-established political consulting firm, Shepard ultimately copped a plea to a misdemeanor, admitting he knew all about San Diego campaign laws, and "was aware that it was illegal for me, Nancy Hoover and Jerry Dominelli to contribute the amount of money to Roger Hedgecock's campaign for mayor that was being supplied to Tom Shepard & Associates."
Added Hoover, who was Dominelli's girlfriend, "Jerry Dominelli and I supplied a substantial amount of money to Tom Shepard & Associates understanding that the funds would be used to pay employees who were working almost exclusively on Mr. Hedgecock's campaign, and to pay other expenses Tom Shepard & Associates were incurring as a result of the Hedgecock campaign.”
"I was aware at the time that I supplied funds to Tom Shepard & Associates that it was illegal for a company to make political contributions in the mayor's campaign," Hoover added.
"I knew that the most I could give Roger Hedgecock as a contribution to his campaign was $250 in the primary and $250 in the general election, and that J. David & Co. could not contribute any money."
Why did he break the law? Said Shepard in a statement, "I would become the preeminent political consultant in San Diego."
Hedgecock was forced to resign in 1985 and both Dominelli and Hoover ended up in the slammer, but Shepard's misdemeanor guilty plea kept him on the streets, allowing him to achieve his perch as the city's top campaign engineer, raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars from the likes of Republican mayors Susan Golding and Jerry Sanders, Democrat Bob Filner, and a raft of special-interest ballot measures.
When Filner was forced to resign in 2013's sexual harassment scandal, Shepard survived the demise of his lucrative city hall lobbying operation, going on to work for an independent expenditure committee backing Republican-turned-Democrat Nathan Fletcher for mayor in 2013.
Now it will take $16,000 to settle a complaint brought by the city's ethics commission alleging that Shepard's company, Tom Shepard & Associates and the Encinitas accounting firm of Scott & Cronin are responsible for keeping the names of the city's biggest labor unions off mailers, yard signs, and television spots during a ballot battle that some believe will heavily benefit Democrats.
The case involves a committee called San Diegans for Full Voter Participation, set up last year to back Measure K, a city ballot measure to require that runoff elections for city offices, including mayor, council, and city attorney, be held whether or not the front runner gets fifty percent plus one of the primary votes.
Similarly, Proposition L, also supported by the committee, amended the city charter to generally require that local initiatives and referenda measures appear on the November ballot. Both K and L passed easily.
"On September 22, 2016, the Committee ordered 2,500 campaign signs and 500 yard signs prepared by the Committee’s consultant, Tom Shepard & Associates, Inc. that included a disclosure statement identifying Lawrence Hess as the only major donor of $10,000 or more," per the August 10 ethics stipulation.
But Hess, a frequent supporter of local Democrats, was far from the group's sole contributor.
Three days before the signs were purchased, the complaint says, the San Diego County Building Trades Council Family Housing Corporation dba National City Park Apartments, donated $75,000. By failing to disclose the Building Trades Council as a major donor, the advertising violated city law requiring identification of the two largest contributions exceeding $10,000, according to the commission.
Similarly, 249,000 campaign mailers ordered October 4 didn't identify the Municipal Employees Association, the city's public workers union, which the day before had funneled $75,000 through a committee it runs called Protect Neighborhood Services Now, Sponsored by the Municipal Employees Association.
An October 6 run of television spots made the same omission, as did 15,000 door hangers purchased October 10, according the stipulation, which said that Shepard "relied on information contained within the Committee’s campaign statements electronically filed by the Treasurer" omitting the Municipal Employees Association sponsorship.
23,000 robo-calls on October 14 also failed the disclosure test. By then, the United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 135 had given $100,000, surpassing Hess as one of the campaign fund's top two contributors, but the union's support was undisclosed by the calls, according to the document.
The multiple disclosure violations "deprived the voters of important information regarding the significant contributions made by Building Trades, Municipal Employees Association, and UFCW to fund Respondents’ activities in support of two ballot measures in the November 2016 general election," concludes the document.
"There was no reasonable excuse for the failure to correctly identify the top two major donors on the advertisements," says the stipulation, "because contributions from the major donors had been received, deposited, and disclosed on electronically-filed campaign statements before the orders for the subject advertisements were placed, and because [Shepard] is an experienced campaign professional who is familiar with City and state campaign disclaimer rules."
As a result, San Diegans for Full Voter Participation agreed to accept the imposition of a $16,000 penalty.
Signing the stipulation were David Miles, Andrea Guerrero, and Rev. J. Lee Hill, listed as principal officers of San Diegans for Full Voter Participation, along with Nancy Haley, political finance director of Scott & Cronin, the campaign's treasurer.