Did Qualcomm use GOP oppo research against Apple?

Jacobs family has long local history of deploying cash for political gains

Qualcomm's co-founder, Democrat Irwin Jacobs, is famous for high-dollar political intrigue, including attempts to alter the school board, conceal campaign money, and promote a massive parking garage in Balboa Park with well-timed cash for mayor Kevin Faulconer.

Irwin Jacobs

Irwin Jacobs

Now the cellphone giant has been linked to Definers Public Affairs, a take-no-prisoners opposition research outfit run by ex-GOP campaign staffers reported by the New York Times to have used by Facebook to target senators investigating the social media company.

"Definers distributed research documents to reporters that cast the liberal donor George Soros as an unacknowledged force behind activists protesting Facebook and helped publish articles criticizing Facebook’s rivals on what was designed to look like a typical conservative news site," according to the November 15 Times account.

Following the revelations, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg cut the company's ties to Definers, saying on a conference call with reporters, "I understand that a lot of D.C.-type firms might do this kind of work. When I learned about it, I decided that we don’t want to be doing it."

Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg later posted, “I did not know we hired them or about the work they were doing, but I should have. I have great respect for George Soros — and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories against him are abhorrent," according to Axios.

According to the Times, "A key part of Definers’ strategy was NTK Network, a website that appeared to be a run-of-the-mill news aggregator with a right-wing slant. In fact, many of NTK Network’s stories were written by employees at Definers and America Rising, a sister firm, to criticize rivals of their clients, according to one former employee not allowed to speak about it publicly."

Enter Qualcomm, which NBC News says in a November 15 dispatch has an ongoing "relationship" with Definers regarding its life-or-death legal battle over patents with one-time customer Apple, according to an unnamed former employee of Definers.

"NTK is currently running an ad to promote a story published on Tuesday headlined 'Conservatives Blast ITC Judge’s Ruling on Apple,' which refers to a patent dispute between Apple and Qualcomm," reported NBC, adding, "Qualcomm and Apple declined to comment."

The Times story alluded to Qualcomm, but did not specifically identify the firm as a client of Definers, reporting that the opposition research firm's Silicon Valley chief Tim Miller said that "Definers’ work on Apple" is not paid for by Facebook but funded by another unnamed "technology company."

Qualcomm has so far kept mum regarding the matter, neither confirming nor denying its relationship with Definers, but the San Diego born-and-bred high technology company and co-founder Irwin Jacobs have often found themselves enmeshed in political goings-on of a high order.

In 2017, the company, pushing its longtime H-1B high-tech visa agenda, came up with a million dollars for the inauguration of Republican president Donald Trump, and in 2013 bankrolled an advocacy group calling itself San Diegans United for Commonsense Immigration Reform, chaired by Jacobs political beneficiary, ex-GOP Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher.

Also in 2013, Qualcomm faced a lawsuit from New York Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, seeking "to inspect the company’s books and records to determine how shareholder funds are being spent for political purposes."

The suit contended that Paul Jacobs, then Qualcomm CEO, and his father Irwin had a storied reputation for using company money to further their political aims.

"Indeed, Qualcomm’s CEO has given the maximum donations permitted under law to his favored political candidates. In addition, the Qualcomm employee PAC, which is required to disclose its own expenditures, receives - and in turn spends - considerable sums from Company personnel for use in the political arena."

The action was dropped in February 2013 after Qualcomm agreed to make public an accounting of the company's "payments to influence."

Another example of Qualcomm's political clout occurred March 3, 2017, when a secret meeting between Republican San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer with Irwin Jacobs at the latter's La Jolla estate was arranged for March 17 to discuss the mogul's desire for new roads and a mammoth parking structure in the heart of Balboa Park, necessitating removal of an 82-foot swath of the historic Cabrillo Bridge.

On March 9, six days after the Faulconer-Jacobs sit down was agreed to by the mayor, four Qualcomm executives — Christine Trimble, Christine Thoene, Daniel Torpey, and William Maheu — came up with $1300 for Faulconer's mayoral campaign fund. On March 13, Qualcomm human resources executive vice president Michelle Stirling, listed as a Poway resident, gave $1050.

On March 31, following the meeting which led to Faulconer's endorsement of the Jacobs park plan, Irwin's son Paul, then-Qualcomm CEO, anted up $1000 for the mayor. The next day, Qualcomm executive vice president and general counsel Donald Rosenberg donated $1000 and the company's senior director of public affairs Molly Gavin furnished $500.

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Qualcomm's next-gen leaders hope their secretive cut-throat corporate practices are mitigated by widely-publicized parental civic philanthropy -- routinely accompanied by institutions' names getting changed to "Joan and Irwin Jacobs Whatever." It's transactional charity.

Those gifts along with the naming of places, buildings, etc. are typical. In fact, institutions avoid putting names on many things until they can sell them to rich benefactors. Definitely transactional.

Good ol' Irwin and his sons were giving to non-controversial civic causes initially. (I'd say the Symphony was non-controversial, for example.) But then they realized that relatively small gifts could buy political favor and guarantee favorable outcomes. Hence we have Kev and Nate Fletcher accepting their financial support, and hoping for more. It is very hard to avoid temptation to dip into the Jacobs bottomless pit of wealth for things you want to accomplish and parade to the voters. We can anticipate more of that, especially from Fletcher, in the coming years.

Maheu is a former Executive Chief of San Diego PD. “Oh! What A Tangled Web We Weave When First We Practice To Deceive.”

Close title, but actually Executive Assistant Chief.

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