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Politics

San Diego County DA Dumanis Lags In Fundraising Among Legal Professionals

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and challenger Bob Brewer.
Couresy photos
San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and challenger Bob Brewer.

Key Points

  • Among individuals listing attorney, lawyer or general counsel as an occupation, Brewer outraised Dumanis four-to-one.
  • Several serving deputy district attorneys, whose union endorsed Dumanis, made contributions, with all three candidates receiving some money from DDAs.
  • Two sitting San Diego County Superior Court judges contributed to Dumanis’ re-election campaign, actions that one legal ethicist called “inappropriate”.

As San Diego County district attorney, Bonnie Dumanis may fairly be called the top lawyer in the county. But local legal professionals aren't backing the three-term incumbent with their wallets.

According to an inewsource analysis of campaign contributions, challenger Bob Brewer is drawing far more money from attorneys.

Among contributions from individuals who listed attorney, lawyer, general counsel or some variation of those as their occupation, 78 percent went to Brewer and 21 percent to Dumanis. One percent went to former federal prosecutor Terri Wyatt, who is also running in the June 3 primary election.

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INTERACTIVE: Click here for a searchable database of contributions in the San Diego County district attorney's race.

As of March 17 — the closing deadline for the last campaign statement — Brewer's campaign and a pro-Brewer/anti-Dumanis independent committee named San Diegans for Better Justice had raised a combined $519,845. Candidates’ campaign committees are subject to a $1,400 per person limit — $700 for the primary and $700 for the general election (though individuals may give the entire $1,400 during the primary so long as the campaign sets aside anything above $700 for the general election). Individuals may contribute unlimited sums to independent committees.

Dumanis had raised $400,854. Wyatt had raised $15,803.

For all candidates, those figures include non-monetary contributions and exclude loans made by Brewer and Wyatt to their own campaigns.

In terms of cash on hand as of March 17, Brewer’s campaign and San Diegans for Better Justice had a combined $362,597. Dumanis’ campaign had $245,193. Wyatt’s campaign had $33,122. Those figures include loans made by Brewer and Wyatt to their own campaigns.

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Law Firms Source Of Much Brewer Cash

Law firms are well represented among companies with employees who've donated the most in the race. As such, that gap explains a great deal of Dumanis' overall fundraising disadvantage vis-a-vis Brewer.

Of the 10 organizations whose employees contributed the most money in the race, six are law firms.

EmployerTotal Contributions from EmployeesContributions to BrewerContributions to DumanisContributions to WyattContributing Employees
Cushman & Wakefield$20,700.00$20,700.00$0.00$0.001
Jones Day$15,950.00$15,950.00$0.00$0.0033
Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd$8,250.00$6,850.00$1,400.00$0.0014
County of San Diego$8,099.00$1,899.00$4,700.00$1,500.0023
Veros Credit LLC$6,300.00$0.00$6,300.00$0.009
McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP$6,050.00$4,350.00$1,700.00$0.0013
Higgs Fletcher & Mack$5,727.79$4,527.79$1,200.00$0.0013
Angelos Towing$4,900.00$0.00$4,900.00$0.004
Latham & Watkins$4,650.00$4,650.00$0.00$0.008
Procopio Cory Hargreaves & Savitch LLP$4,400.00$3,650.00$750.00$0.0010

And Dumanis' gap in support among all legal professionals becomes more pronounced when measured by contributions just from those firms--some of the most prestigious practices in the San Diego area.

Employees of those six law firms have favored Brewer over Dumanis by a margin of nearly eight to one--$39,978 to $5,050.

Brewer campaign spokesman Alex Roth says the reason is clear.

"He's very well-known in the legal community. He's well respected. He's got an impeccable background," Roth said. "He's got impeccable legal credentials and skills and the people who know him the best on a professional level and the people who know Bonnie the best on a professional level are by and large inclined to support Bob over Dumanis."

Dumanis campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Tierney dismissed Brewer's success among private sector attorneys as much ado about nothing.

"I think it shows he has ties to his fellow attorneys and that's really it," Tierney said.

Among law firms, employees of Jones Day were the most generous, pouring $15,950 into the race. Every penny of that amount was in support of Bob Brewer.

That shouldn't come as a big surprise. Prior to running for district attorney, Bob Brewer was the partner-in-charge of the firm's San Diego office and is still an attorney-at-law for the firm and maintains an office in their building.

Karen Hewitt, who succeeded Brewer as partner-in-charge, has known Brewer for more than 20 years.

"When he asked for my support, I gave it to him," said Hewitt, who donated $700 to Brewer's campaign last June.

Hewitt wasn't surprised by Brewer's strong showing among local attorneys.

"He's an attorney who has a fine reputation in the San Diego area and presumably individuals are lending support to him," said Hewitt, who stressed that Jones Day neither encourages nor discourages employees to contribute to particular political campaigns.

Of course, Dumanis is far from completely shut out in the local legal community.

Five hundred dollars of Dumanis' haul has come from Steve Wall, a partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge's downtown office.

Wall has known Dumanis for more than three decades -- since their time volunteering with the State Bar Conference of Delegates (now the Conference of California Bar Associations).

"She became a friend and someone that I trusted and respected," said Wall, who's supported Dumanis in her previous campaigns for judgeships and district attorney.

"I think she's done an excellent job as our district attorney," Wall said.

When asked about Dumanis' lack of financial support from the legal community, Wall pointed to Brewer's long career in local private practice and the personal relationships that career has forged.

"I believe Bob is well known in the legal community," said Wall. "I certainly have a lot of lawyer friends who are supporting him."

And while Wall makes clear that he's rooting for Dumanis to win, he also thinks highly of her challenger.

"Bob Brewer is a wonderful man and I don't think the public can lose in this election," Wall said. "The public is going to win one way or the other."

Deputy District Attorney Giving Varied

The union representing San Diego's deputy district attorneys voted to endorse Dumanis for re-election. Credit: courtesy image.
Courtesy image
The union representing San Diego's deputy district attorneys voted to endorse Dumanis for re-election. Credit: courtesy image.

One set of lawyers may fairly be said to know Bonnie Dumanis the best: San Diego County’s deputy district attorneys.

These are the lawyers who work in the district attorney’s office, trying criminal cases.

And while the union that represents deputy district attorneys voted to endorse Dumanis back in February, a review of contributions in the race makes clear that not every deputy agreed with their union’s stand.

inewsource identified seven individuals who were employed as deputy district attorneys at the time they made contributions in the race.

Two deputies contributed a combined $700 to Brewer’s campaign.

Two deputies contributed a combined $800 to Wyatt’s campaign.

Three deputies contributed a combined $1,250 to Dumanis' campaign, but Dumanis refunded those contributions in line with her campaign's policy to reject contributions from those working for her.

"Bonnie did not want her employees to feel pressured to give her money," said Tierney, explaining the policy.

One of those deputies is Michael Benke, who worked at the DA's office on a one-year contract that ended in September of last year.

"I find her personally to be very impressive," said Benke, who contributed $1,050 to Dumanis' campaign all of which was refunded.

Benke, who worked on environmental enforcement in the office's Economic Crimes Unit, cites Dumanis' frequent visits to different branch offices and departments as proof of her commitment to her employees.

“She looks out for her DDAs. That’s her background. She was one," Benke said. "But she also looks out for the support staff,” noting that she gives paralegals and other employees opportunities to work in different departments.

"She wants people to be happy in their careers," said Benke, who now works at the state attorney general's San Diego office. "I really appreciated that."

The vote by the deputies’ union was not without controversy.

Some pro-Brewer deputy district attorneys complained about emails from co-workers encouraging them to support Dumanis during the union’s endorsement vote.

Pro-Dumanis deputies dismissed those concerns, with Deputy District Attorney Patrick Espinoza telling Voice of San Diego “The claim that a voter was ‘strong armed’ by the email is simply sour grapes from Brewer partisans because Brewer lost the vote.”

San Diego Judges, Sheriff Among Dumanis Contributors

Two sitting San Diego County Superior Court judges contributed to Dumanis' campaign. Credit: courtesy image.
Courtesy image
Two sitting San Diego County Superior Court judges contributed to Dumanis' campaign. Credit: courtesy image.

Several elected officials also donated to Bonnie Dumanis' campaign.

Among them were two sitting San Diego County Superior Court Judges.

Marshall Hockett, currently assigned to criminal court, contributed $250 last February.

Michael Groch, currently assigned to family court, contributed $400 last June.

Geoffrey Hazard, a professor emeritus of law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, described such donations as rare.

"It would be very unusual for judges to make such a contribution," said Hazard, an expert on professional legal ethics.

As Superior Court judges, it's likely that Groch or Hockett would preside over cases Dumanis' office prosecutes.

"That would be, I think, inappropriate," Hazard said. "I don’t think it's illegal, but I do think it's inconsistent with the idea that a judge should conduct himself so [that] there's no question about his neutrality."

Through a court spokeswoman, both Groch and Hockett declined to comment on their contributions.

When asked whether Dumanis felt it was appropriate for sitting Superior Court judges to make donations in a competitive district attorney's race, Tierney, the campaign’s spokeswoman, defended the propriety of the donations.

"That's the law. They're legal contributions," Tierney said. "They're allowed to give."

Also making a contribution was San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore.

Gore endorsed Dumanis in March, making a $700 contribution that same month.

Gore declined an interview request but provided the following statement through a department spokeswoman.

"I endorsed the candidacy of Bonnie Dumanis for District Attorney because she has done a wonderful job and is a great law enforcement partner. I frequently donate my money to candidates I support."

Hazard, the law professor, said he doesn't see the same problems in Gore's contribution that he does in those of Groch and Hockett.

"An officer doesn’t require the same degree of impartiality and he may be saying that his estimate on a professional basis is the incumbent is superior for the job," Hazard said.

Another high-profile elected official who contributed to Dumanis is Ernest J. Dronenburg, San Diego County's Assessor, Recorder and County Clerk.

Dronenburg, who donated $250 to Dumanis in October, made waves last July when he petitioned the California Supreme Court to ban county clerks statewide from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to overturn a lower court's ruling that struck down Proposition 8. Though Dronenburg later withdrew his petition, the maneuver drew the ire of gay rights activists, who have since sought his resignation.

Dumanis--who is married to a woman--endorsed Dronenburg for re-election last April, three months before the clerk filed his petition. Dumanis has said that she voiced her disappointment with the move directly to Dronenburg, telling KPBS that "As a member of the LGBT community, I continue to be a strong supporter of equality and same-sex marriage."

Dronenburg did not respond to a request for comment on his contribution to Dumanis left with a spokeswoman at his office.

Also contributing to Dumanis' campaign was San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. Goldsmith, whom Dumanis endorsed in his 2008 run against then-city attorney Mike Aguirre, donated $700 in April of last year.

Goldsmith did not respond to a request for comment left with his office.

Real Estate Movers And Shakers Big Donors To Both Campaigns

In addition to a lot of lawyers, several local business owners, developers and other well-heeled individuals were major donors to both Brewer's campaign committee and the independent expenditure committee backing him.

The biggest contributor in the entire campaign is Malin Burnham, vice chairman of international commercial real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield.

Burnham, a well-known San Diego developer and philanthropist, donated $20,700 in support of Bob Brewer. He funneled $20,000 through San Diegans for Better Justice and contributed $700 directly to Brewer's campaign.

Burnham did not respond to requests for comment left with his office.

The next two largest donors in the race were also Brewer backers.

One was his wife, retired federal judge Irma Gonzalez, who donated $10,000 to San Diegans for Better Justice and $700 to Brewer's campaign. Election law prohibits independent committees such as San Diegans for Better Justice from coordinating with candidate campaigns and soon after the donation was reported in late March, Dumanis' supporters began questioning how such a donation could be made without the knowledge of the candidate.

Bob Brewer and wife Irma Gonzalez. Credit: courtesy photo.
Courtesy photo
Bob Brewer and wife Irma Gonzalez. Credit: courtesy photo.

Gonzalez later announced she would request the donation be returned, telling U-T San Diego, “I never talked to my husband about [the contribution], I never communicated with anyone on his campaign about it."

Another major Brewer backer, who similarly gave $10,000 to San Diegans for Better Justice and $700 to the Brewer campaign, was Annie Malcolm. Malcolm is the president of real estate firm Suncoast Financial Corporation.

Her husband, Suncoast Financial Corporation Chairman David Malcolm, gave $700 to Brewer's campaign committee.

Annie Malcolm did not respond to a request for comment left with her husband.

The $10,000 contribution from Brewer's wife isn't the only controversial one supporters of the the former assistant U.S. attorney have made.

Nancy Louise Fletcher, a former mayor of Del Mar, made a $700 contribution to Brewer's campaign in June of last year.

In 1989, Fletcher -- then named Nancy Hoover Hunter -- was convicted of four counts of tax evasion as part of a federal investigation into a local Ponzi scheme that ensnared many of San Diego's moneyed elite.

Last month, Dumanis demanded that Brewer, who represented Fletcher at the trial, return the contribution, arguing that some of the fraud victims never got their money back.

Brewer refused, arguing that Fletcher had paid her debt to society and was within her rights to make political contributions. He accused the Dumanis campaign of hypocrisy, given the fact that Dumanis' 2012 San Diego mayoral campaign allegedly accepted illegal foreign contributions.

The Dumanis campaign also had some well-known locals ponying up major cash.

Dumanis doesn't have an independent committee supporting her, so the most any individual can contribute to support her campaign is $1,400 -- $700 for the primary and $700 that the campaign must set aside for the general election.

Among Dumanis' maxed-out donors are Scott McMillin, chairman of real estate firm The Corky McMillin Companies, and his wife Susan McMillin. They donated $1,400 a piece to Dumanis' campaign. The McMillins each donated to the 2013-2014 mayoral campaigns of Kevin Faulconer and Nathan Fletcher.

Mark McMillin, president and CEO of the company, donated $700 to the Dumanis campaign.

Two other McMillin employees contributed a combined $900 to Dumanis.

The McMillins did not respond to a request for comment left with a spokeswoman for The Corky McMillin Companies.

Corrected: April 19, 2024 at 10:03 PM PDT
inewsource investigative researcher Emily Burns contributed to this report.