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After 35 years in public education as a high school English teacher and university administrator, I began my second life as a freelance writer, winning San Diego Society of Professional Journalist awards for my opinion columns in the former San Diego daily North County Times and the San Diego Free Press.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Will Challengers in Carlsbad Council Race Change City Politics?

Evidence of Big Money Guiding Council Decisions


Five candidates have declared their intention to challenge the two at-large incumbents in Carlsbad's city council election in November. If they want to bring real change, beyond the addition of new faces, to the city's go-along-to-get-along political cronyism, they should also lobby for a new city ordinance to limit the amount and source of campaign donations from individuals, business interests and special interest groups, beginning with the 2018 election.

That's when the three other council members, who did the most damage to the council's credibility in the last two years, will be up for reelection. There's plenty of evidence big money, much of it from out of town, guides the decisions of these city leaders.

Mayor Matt Hall's 2014 campaign collected $9,500 from five donors who ponied up at least $1,000, the largest a $5,000 donation from Jimmy Ukegawa, the owner of the strawberry fields and the one person, other than billionaire L.A. developer Rick Caruso, who had the most to gain from a shopping mall on the Agua Hedionda Lagoon. Hall's four other deep pocket donors were executives with connections to the city's Grand Pacific Resort hotels.

Councilmember Michael Schumacher (no relation to city council candidate Cori Schumacher) was the King of Collections from high-roller donors to his 2014 campaign, amassing $23,760 in contributions of $1,000 or more from eleven donors. 

Jimmy Ukegawa was his greatest benefactor at $4,260. Brian Rupp, the President of Shopoff Realty Investments, based in Irvine, California, kicked in another $2,650. That's the firm with its eye on property east of Ponto Beach in south Carlsbad, where Rupp proposes to build 191 apartment and luxury townhomes, a public plaza, shops, and restaurants. Cameron Hulse, a Carlsbad orthodontist, added another $2,500 to Schumacher's campaign war chest.

Schumacher's eight other deep pocket donors included: Sharad Khandwala, the Solana Beach investor who brought the Holiday Inn and Staybridge Suites to Palomar Airport Road; the California Association of Realtors; and an assortment of other commercial real estate owners and managers of property throughout the city.

Councilmember Mark Packard received a total of $3,500 in donations of $1,000 or more from three individuals to his 2014 campaign. His largest was $1,500 from Sharad Khandwala (see above). The other two included a San Diego Commercial Real Estate Services firm and a San Diego General Building Contractor.

Carlsbad's not alone in North San Diego County in attracting big money from out-of-towners. There's no limit to campaign contributions in Oceanside, either. Jerry Kern, a candidate for re-election to the city Council in 2014, collected $5,000 from L.A.'s California Real Estate Political Action Committee and another $3,500 from the Building Industry Association of San Diego, among his supporters who gave $1,000 or more to his campaign.

Another Oceanside city council member, Gary Felien, got $5,000 from the California Real Estate PAC and another $5,000 from Ure Kretowics, a LaJolla real estate developer, for his 2014 re-election campaign.

Meanwhile, Carlsbad's three neighboring cities to the south and east all have campaign contribution limits. Vista's $440 limit applies to all contributors, whether they are a business, committee, group or individual. San Marcos and Encinitas limit campaign donors to no more than $250.

Kristin Gaspar's 2014 Encinitas mayoral campaign raised about $30,000. I didn't count the number of her donors, but the city's $250 limit means she had to have at least 120 to produce that amount of money. It took the Carlsbad Three a mere 18 donations to raise almost $37,000.

To Carlsbad's credit, its website is the most accessible and transparent of any other North County city to campaign donations and statements of economic interests of elected officials.

You can get there with only three clicks, beginning with the homepage tab labeled, "City Hall." Click on "Open Government," then "Disclosure and Ethics," then choose from either "Statement of Economic Interests Filings" or "Campaign Financial Disclosure Statements" to examine official reports of a given public official or candidate.

The Carlsbad citizen activists who defeated a billionaire developer at the polls despite being outspent 100 to 1, should turn their attention now, not only to replacing the council's old guard beginning in November, but to reforming campaign financing that invites corruption.

They can begin today by lobbying for limits to the dollar amount allowed and source of support of the city's political campaigns. Leaders who owe their success to big money from a few out of town interests can hardly be expected to act in the best interests of the majority of their constituents.

1 comment:

  1. Great article, and you are right. The lack of caps on campaign contributions is one of the many things that citizen activists have to keep their eyes on and eventually get changed. Carlsbad is a wonderful place to live, and many of us want to keep it that way, much to the consternation of local and out-of-town real estate developers. With the attitude of our current city council, developers must see Carlsbad as a place ripe for picking, with all of our open space. And they rightly see their large campaign contributions as the investment they are in this pay-to-play town. This needs to change!

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