Before he left office this month to make way for newly elected Democrat Nathan Fletcher, termed-out Republican county supervisor Ron Roberts took one final trip to China, using up a sizable portion of the remaining $51,000 in his once-overflowing 2014 reelection stash. Much of the rest went to a retirement party blow-out, leaving nothing in the bank when the fund finally closed out January 7.
High-dollar hotel stays for the venerable politico and a staffer who went along on the late October and November journey included the Marco Polo Hong Kong Hotel in Hong Kong ($568), Grand Dynasty Culture Hotel in Xian ($880), the White Swan in Guangdong Sheng ($1500), the Renaissance Tianjin Lakeview Hotel in Tianjin ($1000), and the Renaissance Beijing Capital Hotel ($2000).
In August, the campaign fund picked up a $509 tab for a "lunch with Chinese Delegation (6)," along with gifts including a "picture book & medallions for delegation," the disclosure says. San Diego's East West Travel and Tours was paid $6796 for "Inter-Asian Airfare." Other committee expenditures included $5000 paid the Cohn Restaurant Group and $2500 to MSI Meeting Services for a "retirement celebration."
"Roberts is a longtime San Diego sports aficionado who promoted neighborhood youth baseball parks, so the retirement event’s Padres theme — complete with the Padres Friar — was a fitting send-off," wrote Union-Tribune columnist Diane Bell of the December party. "Instead of autographing programs or cocktail napkins, Roberts signed baseballs."
“After more than three decades in public office, Ron Roberts never took a photo while holding a drink,” Matt Awbrey, top media aide to fellow Republican Kevin Faulconer, was quoted by Bell as saying. “I’m honored I could be there the night the streak ended.”
During his sixth and final term as supervisor, Roberts has been quietly spending down the remnants of his reelection fund, mostly on China junkets with staff, previous disclosures have shown.
In 2016 the campaign fund paid for $10,327 worth of Japan Airlines tickets to Tokyo and China for “candidate and staff” to take a May and June "Legislative Trip for Expanding Business, Tourism, and Academic Trade Opportunities." Also on that journey, $400 was spent for “China Trip Visas for Candidate and staff," along with $195 for travel insurance.
During the first half of 2018, the campaign checkbook spent $18,764 which included $15,609 for an April junket to China and Vietnam with an aide, staying Hotel Nikko Saigon ($1240) and the Novotel Danang Premier Han River ($1080). Airfare on China Eastern Airlines was $13,289.
Political cash hasn't been the only source of funds for the wayfaring supervisor. In 2016, Roberts ventured to the Middle Kingdom "at the invitation and sponsorship of the Shanghai Minhang District Government for meetings with Chinese government and industry leaders,” according to a gift report. The $6702 freebie included "business class airfare of $4602; hotel stays amounting to $2100; [and] Meals provided”.
An earlier 2014 trip worth $6700 "regarding opportunities for relations between the district and the San Diego County region, and presentations by San Diego area industry sectors including communications, transportation, health care, and life sciences," was paid for by the governor of Shanghai, according to a personal financial disclosure report filed by Roberts.
Over the years, the Roberts campaign fund raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from an assortment of manufacturers, lobbyists, and real estate titans, providing the outgoing supervisor not only travel benefits, but $1153 for an iPhone from the Apple Store in 2016, and $2558 paid to Bertrand at Mister A’s to host a “Visiting China Delegation Dinner" that October.
Even before the current trade war launched by president Donald Trump, Chinese ties have long proved controversial for Roberts, whose key campaign backers included David Du and other principals of Vista's DDH Enterprise, Inc., which bills itself on its website as a "Turnkey Contract Manufacturer of Cable, Wire Harness & Mechanical Assemblies," with a factory in China.
Most recently, Roberts has sung the praises of Shanghai pharmaceutical giant WuXi AppTec, making a play for more U.S. assets. "Having a leading global organization like WuXi significantly invest in San Diego highlights the value of international partnerships, the county's place on the Pacific Rim and our region's long-standing support of the life sciences community," the supervisor said in a December 10 news release by the company announcing expansion of its San Diego drug division. "I especially applaud the company's vision that 'every drug can be made, and every disease can be treated.'"