Following Caruso Affiliated's Money Trail
When I got an email a few days ago from an unrecognizable sender with the single word "Caruso" in the subject line, I was skeptical. Was this just another phishing expedition? But curiosity got the better of me. Opening it I found the unsigned message, "Caruso Acquisition LLC gave $50,000 to the San Diego County Republican Party on 12/31/15." It was followed by a link to the California Secretary of State's website. Checking it out, I found only one thing wrong with the anonymous message. The gift was actually made on December 30.
The timing of the donation struck me as odd. Rick Caruso had already invested $7 million in an attempt to build a shopping center next to Carlsbad’s Agua Hedionda Lagoon. Why the sudden urge to give big bucks to the Republican Party?
I found the answer after a search of San Diego GOP Endorsements: "The Republican Party of San Diego County urges all City of Carlsbad Republicans to vote Yes on Measure A in the February 23rd special election. Support the Republican-controlled Carlsbad City Council…" The site displayed the corporate image of Yes on A yard signs.
It seems the billionaire developer, who could not openly contribute to Carlsbad's allegedly nonpartisan elected officials, had found a way to buy their favor indirectly.
All three successful candidates in the 2014 election: Matt Hall, Mark Packard, and Michael Schumacher, report donations to the GOP of San Diego County on their campaign finance disclosure forms. Mayor Hall tops the list with $8,000, including one undefined donation amounting to $3,615 and another $2,500 for "table sponsorship for City of Carlsbad Reagan/Lincoln dinner." Mark Packard paid $2,500 for "campaign literature and mailings."
The combination of Caruso and Council member candidate GOP donations is a perfect example of "one hand washes the other."
From studying the California Secretary of State's Campaign Finance website it's clear Rick Caruso is politically an equal opportunity benefactor. He's contributed heavily to the campaigns of Democrats, including Governor Jerry Brown, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, as well as former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. His generosity extends to mostly Democratic Los Angeles City Council candidates.
Given California politics, it's no mystery why he favors Democratic candidates statewide and in Los Angeles, while supporting Republicans in San Diego County. The common thread seems to be which political party has the power to fill Caruso's pockets by approving his development plans in their respective voting districts.
But what really caught my eye was how generous he's been with city council members in Glendale, the site of his splendiferous shopping center, the Americana at Brand, which opened in 2008.
In 2005, the year construction began, the following entries appear in Caruso's campaign finance disclosure forms. From March 31, to April 4 sixteen payments of $4,000 each are made to a payee, "Glendale Neighborhood Protection," defined as a "City Council Member," amounting to $64,000, for "Slate Mailers," another name for deceptive mass mailers. According to inewsource.com, "They are produced by for-profit organizations who often try to make the flier look like it’s sanctioned by a specific political party." Sound familiar, Carlsbadians? Remember those glossy Caruso mailers, graced with the smiling faces of all five council members?
On April 5, 2005, Glendale had a City Council Election. Dave Weaver won a 4-year term. A year before Caruso's shopping center opened in 2008 he contributed $12,000 to help Weaver get elected mayor. He gave him another $1,000 this year for an unsuccessful attempt to retain his seat on the council.
The developer donated $1,000 to Erik Yesayan this year. Upon reading this article, Yesayan pointed out, "While I did receive a donation, I did NOT deposit or accept the donation." The candidate had served for five years on the city planning commission. He lost his race for a council seat in the city's April election.
Glendale City Council member and former mayor, Laura Friedman, who previously served for five years on the Glendale Design Review Board, got the nod this year from Caruso to the tune of $4,200 for her run for a seat in the California Assembly.
Caruso boasts that he arrived in Carlsbad four years ago to begin his campaign for a lagoon mall, meeting with 6,000 residents to explain how wonderful it would be. What he doesn't tell us is that he also met with City Councilmember Farrah Douglas to lobby for his plan, sweetening the deal with a donation of $3,000 for her run for State Assembly in 2012. She lost that race but was fully on board with the developer. It makes you wonder how many promises Caruso made to other council members.
This year the developer has already given Oceanside City Council member Jerry Kern $1,000 for his campaign for the California Assembly. Oceansiders may want to know what the developer wants in return.
Of the $7 million Caruso has spent on his lagoon mall campaign, more than $2 million is listed as "nonmonetary" contributions. That means goods and services, like his paid army of dishonest canvassers and signature gatherers. A couple of days ago I found an ad in the San Diego UT, promising $22/hr for "canvassers" to promote Yes on Measure A on election day, February 23, from 9 a.m to 8 p.m. Voters should be forewarned of last minute dirty tricks near polling places.
Next week we'll find out if a billionaire L.A. developer has been able to buy our beautiful Village by the Sea.