The race to succeed termed-out Republican Kevin Faulconer as mayor of San Diego reached a new level of intrigue with the Monday, April 29 announcement by city councilman Mark Kersey that he is departing the GOP for political life as a self-proclaimed independent.
Tweeted Kersey: "Make no mistake: both parties have plenty of good and decent members. But today's political climate rewards ideologues, not problem-solvers. I ran for office to rebuild San Diego, not localize the debate over federal and state partisan malice.”
Briefly a Republican candidate for the 38th District state Senate last year before dropping out in March, Kersey raised more than $246,000 from a formidable array of real estate and tech moguls, as well as charter school-backing denizens, many from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley, disclosure records show.
Before Kersey finally folded his senate campaign committee this January and refunded many of the contributions after he pulled out of the contest, he gifted $1200 to the San Diego Gun Owners PAC in February of last year and $15,000 to the Republican Party of San Diego on September 24, 2018, per state filings.
Two days later, Kersey rolled the remaining balance of $37,000 into a new political committee he created called Rebuild San Diego with Mark Kersey.
That fund's purpose, according to an October 8, 2018 filing with the San Diego city clerk's office, is to "support measures promoting infrastructure enhancements in San Diego," but the account could serve as a ready slush fund to pick up costs of a mayoral campaign or other bids for higher office launched by the departing Fifth District councilman.
One advantage of having collected the money through his senate campaign committee, per local insiders, is that the path of the donors to Kersey's political coffer has gone cold, effectively concealing from the public the largely out-of-town Republican nature of the cash.
It's a trend likely to be repeated in other campaigns, as hometown funding from traditionally local sources including banks and real estate developers diminishes and is replaced by the state's super-regional financial interests rooted in high technology and based in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
$4400 donors to Kelsey's ill-fated senate drive included Kevin Harvey of Benchmark Venture Capital, one of the original funders of ride-hailing and e-scooter purveyor Uber.
Bigger still is San Francisco's David Crane, a one-time economic advisor to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who personally came up with a total of $8800 for Kersey in December 2017, and whose Govern for California Courage Committee checked in with the same.
"We are a network of more than 500 political donors in support of courageous state legislators who legislate in the general interest," Crane says on the group's website.
In 2006, Crane’s nomination by Schwarzenegger to the State Teachers’ Retirement System governing board was rejected by the state senate,controlled by Democrats.
Another Kersey backer, with $4400 on December 16, 2017, was George H. "Jerry" Hume of San Francisco's Basic American Foods, Inc., a $25,000 backer of the controversial No Labels political group, which has positioned itself as a so-called bipartisan centrists' advocate.
"Appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson to serve on the California State Board of Education, he has championed such education reforms as 'school choice'," says Hume's bio on the website of the conservative Heritage Foundation, of which he is a trustee. "He currently serves on the board of the Center for Education Reform, which also strongly promotes school choice."
Among Bay Area real estate developers for Kersey was Scott Kepner, a partner in Village Properties who contributed $4400 on December 16, 2017. The firm's long-standing development of a Whole Foods store in San Francisco's Russian Hill neighborhood was shot down by the city's planning commission last November, which ruled that the proposal did not include sufficient housing.
Manhattan Beach mega-millionaire William Bloomfield, who two years joined with Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad and other well-heeled donors to wage a successful $1.9 million effort to gain charter school advocates a majority on the L.A. school board, gave Kersey $4400 on December 15, 2017.
San Francisco Republican William Oberndorf and wife Susan, close allies of Trump education secretary Betsy DeVos, gave a combined total of $8800 on December 26, 2017. In May 2018, the couple came up with $2 million for a pro-charter school committee backing the ultimately failed gubernatorial bid of ex-L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Following the early termination of Kelsey’s senate campaign, the Oberndorfs got their money back, as did Bloomfield, Kepner, Hume, Harvey, and Crane, filings show.
In addition to out-of-town funding, Kersey managed to pick up more than a few contributions from local Republicans, including $2000 in October 2017 from Leo Hamel Fine Jewelers. In February of this year, the home of company namesake Leo Hamel was raided by FBI and ATF agents, reportedly as part of a firearms trafficking investigation