PACs Funnel Big Money To Mayoral Hopefuls From Mystery Donors
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Aired 1/22/14 on KPBS News.
Thirty-six political action committees have poured more than $1.6 million into San Diego’s mayoral election.
Last Friday, Jan. 17, the San Diego Jobs Political Action Committee made a $25,000 donation to support City Councilman Kevin Faulconer’s bid for San Diego mayor.
In making the donation, San Diego Jobs achieved membership in a rarefied club — those who had given at least $100,000 to the mayor’s race. Of the 12 such donors in the race, 11 are political committees of various sorts, like the Jobs PAC.
The Jobs PAC is affiliated with business interests. It’s sponsored by the Downtown San Diego Partnership. What is not known publicly is exactly where its money is coming from.
That’s because PACs generally have different rules from committees that explicitly support a candidate. Those committees must regularly disclose their donors—in some cases every day.
PACs usually only have to disclose donors and expenditures twice a year — in late January and July — so, many of the nearly 40 PACs inewsource identified haven’t reported their donors since July, 2013. That was before anyone knew then-Mayor Bob Filner would resign in the face of a sexual harassment scandal and there would be a special election.
Dan Schnur, former chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, says the odd timing of San Diego’s unexpected mayoral race puts disclosure in a unique position.
“The way these particular rules are laid out and the peculiarities of the timing of the special election for the mayor’s race really does create a tricky situation,” Schnur said, who’s running for secretary of state as an independent.
Thirty-six PACs have given donations on any side of the mayor’s race through the primary until now. Here’s how their giving breaks down:
• 19 PACs — almost exclusively sponsored by unions — have supported the candidacy of Democratic Councilman David Alvarez to the tune of $880,000.
• 8 PACs have supported Faulconer with nearly $600,000.
• 11 PACs — all sponsored by unions — donated almost $140,000 to former state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher in the primary. Two of those 11 went on to donate to Alvarez in the runoff.
This means 36 political action committees have poured more than $1.6 million into San Diego’s mayoral election. Here’s how their donor disclosure breaks down:
• 16 have not reported their donors since before the mayor’s race began.
• 1 labor-backed PAC formed this month and has not filed any disclosure reports.
• 18 filed disclosure reports in October or November. All but two of those were PACs supported by labor unions that not only contributed to Alvarez’s camp but also spent money on state-level races last year. Because of that spending, they were required to report on an earlier schedule.
• The only contributions those labor-backed PACs reported last fall were either unitemized donations from member dues specially marked for political purposes or transfers from the general fund of sponsoring unions. This means no individual contributors are listed.
The two non-labor PACs that reported in October or November were the California Apartment Association PAC and the San Diego Hotel-Motel Association.
One PAC, the San Diego Association of Realtors PAC, filed an early semi-annual report on Jan. 15. That PAC reported raising $18,493.96 for all of 2013.
These business-related PACs were joined in backing Faulconer’s bid by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC, which donated $144,000 between Oct. 10 and Jan. 10 to an independent committee supporting Faulconer, San Diegans to Protect Jobs & the Economy. This is the same committee that accepted the San Diego Jobs PAC money.
The PAC, sponsored by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, is unique among all political action committees in that, up until the second week of January when it filed an amended statement of organization, it listed its primary purpose as supporting two propositions on the June, 2012 ballot. The propositions, known as Propositions A and B, sought to bar San Diego from mandating project labor agreements on city contracts and replace guaranteed pensions with 401K plans for new city workers, respectively.
Schnur, the former head of the FPPC, said he’s seen similar instances where committees are established for one purpose only to start engaging in other contests as new elections arise.
“It is worth assuming that the administrators of a particular committee are trying to do the right thing until proven otherwise,” Schnur said.
The Chamber of Commerce declined to answer questions about the PAC’s designation but Ashley Hause, the chamber’s spokeswoman, said in a statement: “We believe we have reported accurately and in compliance with the information that has been explained to us by the Ethics Commission. As you can imagine, the reporting rules are very complex and the best way to answer your questions appropriately is by the Ethics Commission.”
As per commission policies, officials at the Ethics Commission declined to answer questions about the activities of a specific committee.
But while voters have had precious little information on who recent donors to most these PACs have been since the mayor’s race began, they won’t have to wait too much longer to find out. The next six-month report is due Jan. 30.
inewsource investigative researcher Emily Burns contributed to this report.
Questions, tips or suggestions? Email reporter Joe Yerardi at email@example.com or call him at 619.594.5321. Follow Joe on Twitter at @JoeYerardi.
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