As a city council vote draws nigh for getting taxpayers to fund a $5 million special November election sought by the city's hotel moguls and backers of SoccerCity — a plan to privatize a big chunk of the 166 acres now occupied by Qualcomm Stadium — the race by council incumbents to raise campaign money has grown ever more heated, if not to say unseemly.
Democratic council president Myrtle Cole has set yet another lobbyists-backed bash to gather funds for her 2018 re-election bid, this one scheduled for Thursday, June 8, at Eclipse Chocolate on Fern Street in gentrified South Park.
The party is to be hosted by an array of former and current city hall influence peddlers and seekers, including ex-Jerry Sanders media handler Rachel Laing; police union lobbyist Humberto Peraza; and Stephanie Saathoff of the Clay Company, whose clients include apartment developer Garden Communities, owner of University City's La Jolla Crossroads complex, site of last month's controversial mass shooting.
Notes the invitation: "City law permits only personal contributions and limits contributions to $550 per individual for the primary election and another $550 for the general election. A couple may contribute $1,100 per election per couple from a joint account if both parties sign the check, credit card authorization form. or an accompanying letter."
As first reported here, Cole held a campaign money-gathering event last week at the Tierrasanta residence of Republican ex-city councilman Jim Madaffer and his second wife Robin Munro Madaffer, both registered to lobby city hall for an array of clients — in Munro Madaffer's case including Mission Valley and University Towne Center shopping mall owner and developer Westfield, LLC.
Cole isn't the only council member out raising campaign money in the weeks before a crucial round of council decisions regarding whether to spend $5 million in tax money to place the SoccerCity measure on the ballot or wait until November 2018, as desired by foes of the project and advocates for considering such major issues only at regular election time.
One way or the other, the SoccerCity proposal must go before voters as a result of a successful mega-million-dollar initiative drive mounted by the project's La Jolla-based financiers. An unrelated visitor tax increase favored by hotel-owning backers of GOP mayor Kevin Faulconer would appear on the same special ballot under the mayor's plan for November, justifying the multi-million election costs, Faulconer and his campaign funders assert.
Per a June 1 tabulation of council votes by the Union-Tribune, Cole and Republicans Lorie Zapf, Chris Cate, and Mark Kersey have yet to take a position on whether to conduct a special election. Democrats Barbara Bry, David Alvarez, Chris Ward, and Georgette Gomez oppose the plan, the paper says, with the GOP's termed-out Scott Sherman already having endorsed it.
A council vote on matter of budgeting the $5 million is scheduled for Monday, June 5, with a decision on whether to actually call the November election for the convention center measure following on June 12, and a SoccerCity ballot-scheduling vote on June 19, the paper reports.
Because any one of the undecided council members could make or break the special election's fortunes, each is widely seen by city hall insiders as wielding unusual clout with campaign donors on both sides of the issue in the relatively brief window of time leading to the council's ultimate decision.
Explicitly exchanging cash for council votes is illegal, but laws regarding political money are complicated and loopholes in state and federal law, along with the state of ethics enforcement in San Diego county — where District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’s handpicked successor Summer Stephan is a closely-tied client of Faulconer political consultant Jason Roe — have observers voicing skepticism about the efficacy of the region's official campaign watchdogs.
In addition, cash raised at the series of Cole's and fellow council members' pre-vote fundraising activities doesn't have to be disclosed to the public under state law until July 31, well after the political dust has presumably settled.
Another professedly undecided council member taking advantage of the current campaign money frenzy is the Sixth District’s Chris Cate, also facing reelection next year, who on March 21 was the beneficiary of a $33,581 fundraiser co-hosted by influence peddler Richard Ledford and a group of unnamed associates, according to Ledford's first quarter lobbyist disclosure filing.
Other lobbyists co-sponsoring the Cate event, billed as a "campaign kickoff" per May 1 disclosure reports, included James Lawson of Presidio Public Affairs, the lobbying shop founded by Faulconer political guru Roe; Clarissa Reyes Falcon; Paul Robinson; Sherm Harmer; and Ildiko (Lani) Lutar, former head of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association now associated with Responsible Solutions, LLC, who "helped organize" the fundraiser.