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Outside Donors Fuel Prop. Opponents, Fund Mayoral Hopefuls

Evening Edition

Above: Thad Kousser, a political science professor at UCSD, and Investigative Newsource reporter Kevin Crowe talk about campaign contributions.

Aired 8/27/12 on KPBS News.

If all politics is local, all fundraising isn’t. Councilman Carl DeMaio headed north to Orange County last week to raise money for his mayoral campaign in San Diego.

Aired 8/30/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.

If all politics is local, all fundraising isn’t.

If all politics is local, all fundraising isn’t. Councilman Carl DeMaio headed north to Orange County last week to raise money for his mayoral campaign in San Diego.

The 92660 ZIP code of Newport Beach is the place outside of San Diego County that generated the most money for DeMaio leading up to the primary. It’s not a huge amount – 11 donations totaling $2,950 – but a few thousand here and there add up.

Special Feature Mayoral Campaign Contributions

Search an interactive map of San Diego mayoral campaign contributions by ZIP code.

Donations to mayoral candidates from outside of San Diego County accounted for more than one in every ten dollars raised through June 30. Out-of-town funders accounted for about one in every three dollars raised for the major committees opposing and supporting ballot measures and mayoral candidates.

The contributions came from individuals who simply like a candidate. They came from people who support or oppose particular issues, and from people who see an opportunity to be part of something bigger.

Lee Lowrey of Newport Beach had an eye toward the future when he donated $500 to DeMaio’s campaign during the primary. He also attended the candidate’s fundraiser in Newport Beach last week.

“I live in the county next door, but San Diego obviously is a very big stage to be on within the state,” he said. “I want to help him because hopefully he becomes mayor, and then maybe goes up to state government from there.”

Thad Kousser, a political science professor at UCSD, said San Diego, California’s second largest city, can serve as a proving ground for candidates, especially Republicans. Republicans do not hold a single statewide office, so they don’t have a bench of candidates to turn to for big elections.

Outside Donors Fuel Prop. Opponents, Fund Mayoral Hopefuls
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“So, where’s the next senatorial candidate going to come from? Where’s the next governor’s candidate going to come from?,” he asked. “Likely from a big city mayor, and San Diego is the biggest city that’s likely to elect a Republican.”

Together, the four mayoral candidates raised more than $500,000 from donors outside of San Diego County. They brought in at least $1.2 million from people who listed ZIP codes outside the city of San Diego as their place of residence or business.

DeMaio’s campaign took in more than $75,000 -- or about 4 percent of his contributions. Congressman Bob Filner raised about $106,000 from out-of-towners, almost a quarter of his total. State Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, who placed third in the primary, brought in about $275,000 from donors outside the county. County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who came in last, raised just less than $60,000.

It’s to be expected that people from outside of San Diego contribute to campaigns for candidates like Fletcher and Filner, who serve constituencies that extend far beyond the city, Kousser said, even if the donors don’t appear to have a stake in the race.

“You get fans,” he said of politicians at state and federal levels. “People have seen what Bob Filner’s done over the course of his career and those that like him are going to have a rooting interest in this race.”

Fletcher drew national attention, and the donations that come with it, when he left the GOP and announced he would run as an independent. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times both ran editorials lauding Fletcher’s move at the time. He received more than $95,000 from out-of-state donors, more than any other candidate.

Lowrey, 42, a portfolio manager at a real estate development firm, said he doesn’t currently do any business in the city of San Diego, but he supports DeMaio because he’s in favor of changing public employee retirement systems.

“The pension reform issue is a huge issue up and down the state,” he said. “(DeMaio’s) really leading the charge on that.”

For some donors, it’s less about the issues and more about the person. That was the case for Al Sheahen who lives in Sherman Oaks, near Los Angeles.

“I’ve known Bob (Filner) for about 10 years,” he said. “I’m supporting him because he’s a great guy and very principled.”

Sheahen, 70, is a member of a nonprofit in the Los Angeles that works on issues of poverty throughout the world. He donated $350 to Filner’s mayoral campaign.

Both Lowrey and Sheahen said they plan on donating to their chosen candidates’ campaigns again before November.

“It’s important to contribute, I feel, because it takes so much money to run a campaign,” Sheahen said.

In addition to politicians’ campaigns, significant cash that supported and opposed Prop. A, the project labor measure, and Prop. B, the pension reform initiative, came from outside of San Diego.

Outside Donors Fuel Prop. Opponents, Fund Mayoral Hopefuls
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More than $1.7 million -- or, more than one in every three dollars raised -- in cash or in-kind contributions on both sides of the propositions came from outside San Diego County.

Much of that money came from labor organizations and trade associations located in Sacramento. Private companies based outside the county also contributed.

Kousser said companies who might want to or already do operate in San Diego have an interest in backing ballot measures such as Proposition B. When less money is going to pay for public employee pensions, he said, that means more is going to pay for government services, which would keep taxes from going up.

“It shows they’re not just giving this money to win influence, they’re giving this money to change outcomes,” Kousser said.

Companies who don’t have their headquarters in San Diego, such as Wal-Mart and Allied Waste, lined up to financially back pension reform. Wal-Mart, headquartered in Bentonville, Ark., donated $45,000; Allied Waste, located in Phoenix, gave $15,000.

A representative for Allied Waste said the company does not comment on campaign contributions, while a spokesperson for Wal-Mart gave a statement which read in part:

“Proposition B is supported by a wide range of city stakeholders, public officials, businesses and NGO’s, including the U-T San Diego Editorial Board. We remain committed to serving customers in San Diego and continue to focus on things residents care about like jobs, healthier foods, sustainability and workforce development.”

The state auditor will examine the City of San Diego’s development permitting process after Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, suggested a link between Wal-Mart’s contributions and the approval of the permits to build a new location in San Diego.

The California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust, a nonprofit located in Sacramento that promotes and protects project labor agreements around the state, donated more than $1 million to try unsuccessfully to defeat Prop. A, which banned project labor agreements. The agreements set some of the terms of employment, such as wage rates, on construction projects.

The Trust gets much of its money from laborers themselves. Clauses in some project labor agreements dictate that a portion of money per hour worked goes to the Trust.

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