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Outside Groups Funding Some Of San Diego County’s Most Contentious Races

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The analysis shows some of the biggest political players in town, from unions to the Lincoln Club, are spending a lot in San Diego County’s most notable races this year.

Speaker 1: 00:00 In the 10 years since the Supreme court's citizens United decision, the amount of money spent by outside groups on political campaigns has grown enormously. There's no limit on what political action committees or PACS can spend. And that's the case. Again, this year in many San Diego races, joining me to break it down is I knew source reporter, Jennifer Bowman, Jennifer, welcome to midday edition. Thank you for having me. So start with some of the outside money flowing into notable San Diego campaigns. Take the mayor's race for instance.

Speaker 2: 00:30 Yeah. Th the mayor's race definitely is attracting the most outside spending in the local races. Um, our analysis found over $2 million total in outside support had gone into that race either to support Todd, Gloria, uh, or Barbara Bree or to oppose either of them. Um, and Gloria has seen the most outside support, and this is something that Bri has really hammered in her campaign for Gloria. We've seen big contributions to independent committees by the municipal employees association. That's the city's largest union and the top donor for outside funding for Gloria, as well as the chamber of commerce and other labor groups. And Brie has seen support from some advocacy groups. And actually a lot of her independent spending comes from individual donors, but it's not near the levels that Gloria has seen.

Speaker 1: 01:21 And your story shows outside groups, funding, ads, and mailers, and several of the campaigns for County supervisor as well. Tell us about those

Speaker 2: 01:28 The most outside spending, um, for the supervisor races we've seen in district three, and that's the key seat for Democrats to reach a board majority, something that hasn't been possible in decades and an in district three, we've seen $1.6 million in outside spending. And in terms of who's benefiting the most, slightly more, about 850,000 has gone to Terra Lawson Riemer, um, she's a political newcomer and she's challenging, uh, incoming Kristin gas bar gas bar has seen about $770,000 in outside support. And some of the groups that are funding, the independent spending are groups like the conservative leaning Lincoln club, labor and law enforcement groups. Those are really who's behind some of that outside support

Speaker 1: 02:14 Discover which groups are behind such ads of fine print. Is it there?

Speaker 2: 02:19 You can read the fine print. Um, so if you get a learn, uh, in your, in your mailbox, you'll see that that box with, uh, who, who paid for the ad. But that information only goes so far. You'll see a pretty generic committee meme, some details of who's funding the committee, but not all of its donors. Um, and to dig further, you have to go through campaign finance reports like we did. Um, we had to find con which committees are supporting or opposing candidates. It was a lot of work. We went through hundreds of campaign, finance reports, dating all the way back to 2019 to get a full picture. So what you see on those mailers, um, only gets you so far, not a voters, many

Speaker 1: 03:00 Voters are going to go in and dig that far into that. Now explain the role outside groups can play in funding, a campaign that allows the candidates to remain quote, clean

Speaker 2: 03:10 The quote that we included in our story, that, um, our CA uh, campaign finance expert that we spoke to, he, he cited what he called a classic statement by Terry Dolan. Um, some folks might know who that is. He's the late conservative activist. He played a really prominent role in independent expenditure laws. And decades ago, we had a quote that said a group like ours could lie through its teeth and the candidate. It helps stays clean. Um, so candidates are prohibited from coordinating with independent spenders, these independent committees. And in the case of Gloria and Brie, that's exactly what the candidates say. When they're asked about some of these ads. We've seen this campaign season that had been funded by the outside groups. So it's not exactly a surprising that often we'll see outside groups funding some of the more contentious political attack ads. And we've seen that in the mayor's race, particularly

Speaker 1: 04:02 One notorious example in this election cycle involves an attack on Democrat Todd, Gloria, who is openly gay by a group run by conservative talk show host and former Councilman Carla mile, who was also openly gay. And this one involves homophobia and generated threats. And that's according to Gloria, tell us about that.

Speaker 2: 04:20 Yeah. So, uh, Carl do miles group reform, California, uh, was behind a series of ads on a website, text messages, um, that slammed Gloria's record, um, as a state assembly member and particularly his support of SB one 45, um, SB one 45 addresses long-term discrimination against the LGBTQ community, um, when it comes to the state sex offender registry requirements, and these ads included, um, a statement that said, Todd, Gloria supports sex offenders, um, Gloria and his supporters have denounced the ads. Um, like you said, they say it's false and perpetuates homophobic tropes. Um, and meanwhile, denial has stood by the ass. He says, they're legitimate criticism of his vote on SB one 45. And that glorious support is indefensible. Um, and meanwhile, Bree's campaign has distanced itself from the ads saying they're not involved with those ads to Mio has not endorsed either candidate and Bree. Her campaign said that to my own glory. I've had a few that goes back years.

Speaker 1: 05:23 Well, let's hear from the candidates themselves first, Todd, Gloria defending, uh, outside groups who support his campaign.

Speaker 2: 05:30 What you see is really an unprecedented coalition of organizations in our community who sometimes don't agree with one another yet they're in agreement that they believe I'm the best person to be the next mayor of San Diego,

Speaker 1: 05:44 His opponent, a fellow Democrat, of course, Barbara Bree would be outspending Gloria for it. Weren't for outside money though. A good portion of Bree's war chest is self-funded here's Brianne. How Gloria is relying on what she calls special interests, playing the long political game.

Speaker 2: 05:58 Cause he's going to need them for the next office that he's going to run for. I'm not going to need them. I want to do what's right for our residents. Jennifer,

Speaker 1: 06:06 Is there any way to know how all of this impacts voters decisions? Do they look unfavorably on candidates who use outside money to fund negative ads?

Speaker 2: 06:16 An expert that we spoke with for this story told me he doesn't think most people have any idea who's behind the ads that they just read the ad. If they do that at all. I think at this point in the election, there's probably some fatigue as we're all getting inundated with them. But either way, if you pay attention to that fine print, if you read coverage like ours, to hear more about who's behind the funding, you'll at least know which groups are backing, which candidate and that expert told us. It's not like these groups are putting up money for candidates who they expect to go against their own interests. So voters will at least have more information, that information when they cast that ballot,

Speaker 1: 06:53 We'll see you next week, how it all plays out. I've been speaking with Jennifer Bowman, investigative reporter with I news source. Thanks,

Speaker 2: 06:59 Jennifer.

Speaker 3: 07:10 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.