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Questions Dog Bonnie Dumanis On San Diego Campaign Finance Probe

Campaign Finance Experts Say There Were Key Warning Signs The Funds Might Not Be Legal

Above: District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis speaks to the media, Aug. 20, 2013.

Aired 2/18/14 on KPBS News.

Should Dumanis have raised questions about the money? Responses are mixed.

Just days after federal prosecutors unsealed a complaint alleging that more than $500,000 in foreign money had been channeled into San Diego elections, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis sent a message to her supporters.

"If the allegations are true, I want these individuals to be held responsible for violating the law and trying to pull a fast one on the people of San Diego," Dumanis wrote. "I'm glad federal authorities are focused on getting to the bottom of this."

Special Feature Dirty Money

All of the background information on campaign contributions illegally funneled from a wealthy Mexican businessman to local candidates.


According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Mexican billionaire Jose Susomo Azano Matsura’s illegal contributions included:

• A $100,000 contribution to a SuperPAC;

• $100,000 in unreported compensation for campaign services;

• A $30,000 contribution to a political party committee;

• Another $190,000 in unreported compensation for campaign services;

• A $150,000 contribution to another SuperPAC;

• A $30,000 contribution to another political party committee;

• The promise of a "mill" in additional contributions.

One of the campaigns the complaint targeted benefited Dumanis herself in her bid for San Diego mayor in 2012.

And the federal complaint wasn't the first time the foreign donations supporting her mayoral run came to light.

In May 2012, San Diego CityBeat reported that a company named Airsam had contributed $100,000 to a political action committee called "San Diegans for Bonnie Dumanis."

The article stated that Airsam was controlled by Mexican billionaire Jose Susumo Azano Matsura.

Should Dumanis have raised questions about the money? Responses are mixed.

Bob Brewer, a former federal prosecutor who is challenging Dumanis' re-election bid this year, thinks the matter is clear.

"It was a red flag," he said. "There should have been an investigation by her campaign or herself. There were a lot of issues raised by that article."

Dumanis declined several requests for an interview with KPBS on the matter, but her campaign spokeswoman pointed out that Dumanis had no legal control over money given to a PAC. State law prohibits candidates from coordinating with independent committees formed to support them.

Former California Fair Political Practices Chairman Dan Schnur says Dumanis still could have disavowed the money.

"What many candidates have done in both parties in other venues is when an independent committee designed to help them is acting in a way in which they disapprove, they have made public statements and said things like I certainly hope my supporters would do this and not do that," Schnur said.

San Diego State University political scientist Brian Adams, who studies campaign finance, contended that a $100,000 donation had to have come to the campaign's attention.

"When people make donations of this size, obviously they're trying to influence elected officials," Adams said. "If the elected officials don't know who you are, that donation is kind of useless. So clearly the donor in this case would have tried to make it known to Bonnie Dumanis or allies of Bonnie Dumanis that he was doing this on her behalf."

Taking it a step further, Adams added, "if a candidate knows that independent expenditures being made on her behalf are being laundered and being funneled through a third party, clearly she would have an ethical responsibility to talk to the people who are running the independent expenditure committee and say, 'You know you shouldn’t be doing this.’"

Dumanis is not accused of breaking the law. Nor is Azano, who grew up in the Mexican state of Jalisco, and made billions in surveillance and security technology. He lives part-time in Coronado. Prosecutors have not even named Azano, but many news organizations, including KPBS media partner inewsource, have traced the donations to him.

According to the federal complaint, Azano created the PAC working on behalf of Dumanis, with former San Diego police detective Ernesto Encinas — who has been charged with conspiring to pump foreign money into local campaigns. The complaint also alleges that another $100,000 was spent on display, banner and text ads for Dumanis’s campaign but kept off public disclosure filings.

Dumanis has acknowledged meeting Azano at his home early in her 2012 mayoral run. She also said she knows retired police officer Encinas and has met with Ravneet Singh, Washington, D.C.-based "campaign guru," who also has been charged in the case.

Prosecutors said in court last month that the foreign national believed to be Azano wanted to transform San Diego’s bayfront into "Miami West." The government also says Encinas — who has business ties with nightclubs — wanted San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne fired and replaced with someone who would more easily grant liquor licenses.

The federal complaint also states that tens of thousands of dollars in illegal donations were made to benefit other candidates believed to be disgraced former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and Congressman Juan Vargas.

About $340,000 in illegal donations were allegedly made to Filner and $30,000 was contributed to a political party committee tied to Vargas. The filing states overtures were made to another former mayoral candidate whom sources say is Nathan Fletcher.

In addition to Encinas and Singh, Marco Polo Cortes, a San Diego lobbyist who was a Chula Vista planning commissioner, is charged with illegal campaign contributions. He and Singh are scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | February 18, 2014 at 11:26 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

So why isn't Corbin Stump and the LGBTeers clamouring for her resignation like they did with Filner?

Oh, yeah, she's part of the family and Filner voted for DOMA!

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Avatar for user 'laplayaheritage'

laplayaheritage | February 18, 2014 at 11:06 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

The Public Waterfront is managed by the San Diego Unified Port District (UPD), not the Mayor. The Public Waterfront is owned by the People of the State of California in Trust forever. It is illegal to build private luxury condominiums on Public State Tidelands. At the most only Condo-Hotels are allowed. Condo Hotel owners cannot live in the Unit for 6 or more month a year (50%).

Never even heard of a supposed war room. Where is the small leased office space did this war room exists? What did the war room do?

Former Mayor Filner promised Public Park and Open Space advocates a public Waterfront Park at the Navy Broadway Complex (NBC), not luxury condos like Miami. after Active Seismic Faults are Confirmed or Denied from the Tenth Avenue Marine Terminal (TAMT) to the Airport. By our Municipal Codes fault buffer setbacks increase from 50 feet on each side to 400 feet on each side. In this fault buffer zone only Public Park and open space areas are allowed by Code.

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Avatar for user 'lifesaver1'

lifesaver1 | February 19, 2014 at 6:44 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

Odd journalism here. The article states, "Should Dumanis have raised questions about the money? Responses are mixed." The article then goes on to quote three sources who all seem to agree that she should have acted on the information by either investigating, disavowing the money, or contacting the donors to say they shouldn't be doing this. Sure, the responses are mixed in that they don't line up exactly, but all three persons interviewed say she should have taken some action. It would have been more appropriate to state something like, "Should Dumanis have raised questions about the money? Three people we contacted said Dumanis should have taken action to make her disapproval clear, one going so far as to suggest she should have investigated."

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | February 19, 2014 at 8:50 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

Missionaccomplished - Your comment is correct, exactly.

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Avatar for user 'KHoang'

KHoang | February 19, 2014 at 9:29 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

The role of the District Attorney is to pursue and administer justice as well as to protect public safety. An elected District Attorney must adhere to the highest standard of integrity, must lead by example, and must be mindful of potential or actual conflict of interest as well as avoid any appearance of impropriety.
Voters should look at the facts surrounding the current District Attorney’s political activities in the last three years and draw the logical conclusion that the People of San Diego County and the Office of District Attorney need and deserve a new leader.
At this juncture, the question is no longer whether there was any appearance of impropriety. We are now facing the sad and embarrassing reality that the incumbent top prosecutor of our county is a subject of scrutiny in connection with an ongoing federal campaign finance case.
In pursuing her personal political ambitions, the incumbent D.A. has dragged the name of the Office she holds under a dark cloud through her own actions and no longer deserves the confidence of the voters.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | February 19, 2014 at 10:42 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

Mission and Jean, I don't know where you are getting this bizarre notion that gay people are so bitter over DOMA that we are trying to sabotage anyone who supported it.

Many in the gay community do NOT support Dumanis' right wing politics regardless of her sexual orientation.

Furthermore, many gay people supported Filner over DeMaio in that mayoral election.

Yes, DOMA was shameful, but it was also politics. Filner, like President Clinton, spent many years post-DOMA supporting gay rights and that's why many gay people support the Clintons to this day and supported Filner before the sexual harassment came to light.

Times were different when DOMA was signed - it wasn't chic to support gay rights. I honestly doubt DeMaio or Dumanis would have been vocal opponents against it if they were in congress at the time, they would have been to afraid of harming their political careers.

Just remember Mission, Corbin does not represent the whole LGBT community, he certainly doesn't represent me. I found his actions during the Filner scandal bizarre, suspicious, and annoying.

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Avatar for user 'tkleff'

tkleff | March 10, 2014 at 8:45 p.m. ― 3 years ago

Here's what you need to know: Dumanis raised about $500,000 for her mayoral campaign on the books. She got $100,000 from the Mexican national. That is, with one contribution, she got >15% of all her money. Indeed, the money paid for ALL of her facebook, twitter, and social media campaigning. So, is she a horrible leader or a liar? Those are the only two real choices. Here's why:

She's the candidate. She's the leader not only of her campaign, but of the most sensitive law enforcement position in the county. She has to avoid not only impropriety, but the _mere appearance_ of impropriety. So, she should have communicated to all in her campaign how incredibly important her integrity was. And, whoever she chose to handle this aspect of her campaign, ultimately, she's responsible for the transgressions (and legal problems) of the campaign. This is law 101 -- and her prattle that she wants to get to the bottom of this is such a sham -- she was the leader, she should be able to get to the bottom of it by reviewing who was in charge of the social media campaign, and ask how they paid for it.

The alternative is far worse: She's not a horrible leader, but she knew. And, of course she knew. There is simply no way you can run a $600,000 campaign and forget to report a $100,000 (and illegal) contribution. How did she think the online campaign ran? Didn't she ask? Of course she did.

Incidentally - I have some experience with her issues with integrity. You can watch and read my story and interaction with Dumanis here:

and the video:

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 10, 2014 at 10:40 p.m. ― 3 years ago

Ooops! I thought I saw Dog Bonnie Dumanis! LOL

But seriously, folks, will her office investigate herself???

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | March 10, 2014 at 10:51 p.m. ― 3 years ago

Quack, DOMA was NOT "shameful" as you describe, remember, Clinton DID sign, regardless of his about-face, like Sanders and others. I believe that DOMA was unnecessary, save for the politicizatin of what is not political. Maybe they are all just political opportunists?

I am glad you realize there is dissention within the ranks. De Mayo is hated because he is "not gay enough" for the militants. You then claim LGBTeers don't have an axe to grind yet you turn around and say you found Stump's actions bizarre! Well, hellooo! Do you really think Stump did not have some axe to grind??? Do you think the militants had forgotten Filner voted for DOMA??? Why else would Stumped join the Teebirchers, the feminists, the hoteliers, and Jan Goldsmith, all ideological enemies, but united in their effort to engineer a coup???

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