by Ryann Grochowski | inewsource

Councilman Carl DeMaio strongly supports the convention center expansion and the hotel tax that will fund it. In turn, he’s attracting the financial support of local hoteliers, caterers and event planners in his bid for mayor.

Our analysis of campaign finance documents shows companies in the hospitality and tourism industry have donated at least $23,000 to DeMaio’s campaign. That’s nearly three times what they’ve donated to his competitors.

As councilman, DeMaio supported the creation of a taxing district that would add a one-to-three-percent surcharge on city hotel rooms. Hotel owners approved that tax on Tuesday.

Included in the industry’s donations is $4,175 from members and relatives of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau board for fiscal years 2012 and 2011. ConVis is a private non-profit group of organizations that market county tourism.

Last month, DeMaio voted with the council majority to approve the switch of convention marketing duties from the public convention center board to ConVis. The move was criticized as a power play to get hotel owners to approve the room tax.

In a brief interview, DeMaio said these donors are no different than his others — their expectation is that he will “clean up the mess in City Hall.”

The convention center expansion has been a main issue in the mayoral race. Candidates District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher approve of the convention center’s expansion, though they have disagreed with the financing plan.

Dumanis’ campaign has received at least $8,600 from the hospitality industry, including $700 from ConVis board members and relatives. Fletcher has received at least $9,150, with $1,100 coming from board members.

Congressman Bob Filner, who opposes the tax and expansion plans, has received less than $300 in donations from hoteliers. No board members contributed to his campaign.

Filner has challenged DeMaio publicly and repeatedly about his support for the tax and the convention center expansion. He jumped on De Maio during a televised debate last week when DeMaio said the hotel tax wasn’t public money.

DeMaio said the center’s expansion was “critical to the economy” and that the transfer of marketing to ConVis would better the chances of bringing large events to the city. He also defended the hotel surcharge.

“The last two convention center expansions involved public money through the TOT, transient occupancy tax,” DeMaio said. “Under my Convention Center expansion proposal, the hoteliers will have to take the responsibility for financing the expansion.”

He added: “I believe that’s fair because taxpayers funded phase one and phase two of the convention center. It’s time for the business community to take the responsibility of phase three.”

Filner challenged the assertion.

“How can you call the vote on the transient occupancy tax not taxpayer-funded?” Filner asked. “It is a public tax and you’ve given the right to vote on that to a private group.”

To analyze the donations candidates received from the hospitality industry, inewsource looked for any donation from a person or company involved with area hotels, lodging, catering, parking or event planning, as well as any donations from board members listed on the ConVis website for fiscal years 2011 and 2012.

You can see our list of identified donors here.

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