With California’s June 7 primary less than two weeks away, the three candidates for San Diego mayor are readying their final pitches to voters.

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Information about who supports candidates can help voters make better-informed decisions.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s well-funded campaign and a supportive super PAC hope to steamroll his opponents and secure an outright majority and victory in June. Meanwhile, his opponents are using what little money they have to deny him a majority and force him into a November runoff.

Kevin Faulconer

Faulconer is seen as the favorite. A recent Independent Voter Network poll had the Republican at 48 percent of the vote, within the margin of error to win the race outright in June.

City elections are officially nonpartisan.

The incumbent is far and away the best-funded of the candidates. His campaign committee has raised at least $1.24 million through May 20.

More than $640,000 of that came in the committee’s first month of fundraising in June 2015.

Carl Luna, a political science professor at San Diego Mesa College, said Faulconer’s aggressive start to fundraising helped do more than finance his re-election campaign.

“It serves the purpose of keeping other people from wanting to run against you — scares off talent — and apparently that works because until earlier this year, it didn’t even look like there was going to be a Democrat running and then you got a Democrat running as an independent. So all the bigger names picked something else to go and do,” Luna said.

The three comprehensive campaign finance reports Faulconer’s campaign has filed, covering contributions through April 23, showed 2,386 individual donors contributing an average of $496.

Interactive: Click here for a searchable database of campaign contributions in San Diego.

Crucially, Faulconer has the backing of an independent committee — better known as a super PAC — created last May to support his re-election. Communities United for Tomorrow’s Economy has raised at least $632,500 through May 20. It’s sponsored by The Lincoln Club of San Diego County and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC.

Under the city’s campaign finance regulations, only people can donate to candidate campaigns. And those contributions are capped at $1,050 per election (with the primary and general election counting as separate elections). No such restrictions are placed on independent committees: They can raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations, unions and other political committees (such as PACs).

Independent committees are banned from donating to a candidate’s campaign. They can instead spend unlimited amounts of money on things like mailers, television advertisements and get-out-the-vote operations to boost a candidate. Such spending cannot be coordinated with a candidate’s campaign.

The five biggest funders backing Faulconer’s re-election — operating through Communities United — are all committees themselves.

Largest Donors to Communities United for Tomorrow’s Economy

1The Lincoln Club of San Diego County$235,000.00
2San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC$125,000.00
3San Diego Restaurant & Beverage PAC$75,000.00
4Infrastructure PAC of the Associated General Contractors$50,000.00
4Building Industry Association of San Diego County PAC$50,000.00

Source: San Diego City Clerk

The largest donor to Communities United for Tomorrow’s Economy is The Lincoln Club of San Diego County.

The club, the voice of San Diego’s politically conservative business community, provided the initial seed money for the committee (along with the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce’s PAC), donating $15,000 last May 27. It followed that up with an $86,000 donation less than two weeks later.

The club’s top donor in the 2015-16 election cycle is Thomas W. Sudberry Jr., chairman of real estate development company Sudberry Properties. Sudberry had given the Lincoln Club $110,875 as of May 20.

Next is the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, the tribe with a casino and a golf resort near El Cajon. The band has given the club $45,000.

Rancho Guejito Corp. was the third largest donor to the club, giving $40,000. The corporation is engaged in an ongoing and at times contentious effort to develop 23,000 acres near Valley Center.

After The Lincoln Club comes the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce’s PAC. The chamber’s PAC has given $125,000 to Communities United. The chamber, along with The Lincoln Club, provided the initial funding for Communities United, pitching in $10,000 last May 27 and an additional $90,000 two weeks later.

The chamber PAC’s top donor for the 2015-16 cycle is its parent organization, which made two contributions totaling $594,325 in 2015.

The PAC’s second-largest donor, San Diego Gas & Electric owner Sempra Energy, kicked in $35,000. Cox Communications donated $30,000. And local real estate firm H.G. Fenton Co. gave $25,310.

Interactive: Click here for a searchable database of campaign contributions to committees backing the mayoral candidates.

The San Diego Restaurant & Beverage PAC was the third-largest donor to Communities United, having given $75,000 to the committee.

Its donors, as you might guess from the PAC’s name, overwhelmingly hail from the food service industry.

Its top 2015-16 election cycle donor is Whisknladle Hospitality LLC. The La Jolla-based owner of five restaurants has given two $4,000 contributions to the PAC since the start of 2015.

Clocking in at $6,300, the second-biggest giver to the Restaurant & Beverage PAC is the Brigantine Restaurant Corp., owner of a chain of eponymous seafood restaurants and the Miguel’s Cocina chain of Mexican restaurants.

The third-largest donor to the PAC is the Cohn Restaurant Group, which gave $5,300 last year. The group owns more than two dozen restaurants in and around San Diego.

Rounding out the top five donors to Communities United for Tomorrow’s Economy are the Infrastructure PAC of the Associated General Contractors and the Building Industry Association of San Diego County PAC. Each gave the pro-Faulconer super PAC $50,000.

The biggest donor for the contractors PAC was its parent organization, which forgave $113,000 worth of loans the PAC had previously taken out.

The PAC’s second-largest donor is Helix Electric Inc., which has ponied up $10,750. The locally headquartered firm’s projects include work on Qualcomm Stadium’s electronics system and an expansion of San Diego International Airport’s Terminal 2.

Three real estate companies tied for biggest donors to the Building Industry Association’s PAC, each donating $30,250 since January of last year: H.G. Fenton Co., Carlsbad-based Chelsea Investment Corp. and Cornerstone Communities, a builder of planned communities throughout San Diego County.

Ed Harris

San Diego mayoral candidate Ed Harris speaks at the Ocean Beach Town Council meeting on April 27, 2016. Megan Wood, inewsource.

The Democrats took a long time to get their candidate. High-profile Democrats with big war chests and expansive donor networks passed on the chance to take on Faulconer.

That’s evident in the fundraising struggles of Democratic mayoral candidate Ed Harris, who entered the race at the beginning of March, just before the filing deadline.

Harris, a former chief of the city’s lifeguards union who was appointed to fill the last eight months of Faulconer’s City Council term after a special mayoral election in 2014, has raised at least $48,363 as of May 20.

“This was an election, if you look at the recent polling, where the Democrats with a strong candidate could have possibly taken this — by a narrow margin to be sure — but could have possibly won.”-Carl Luna

His first and only comprehensive campaign finance report, covering contributions through April 23, showed 79 individual donors contributing $522 on average.

Unlike Faulconer, Harris has no super PAC backing him. His largest single donor is the San Diego County Democratic Party, which made a $20,650 contribution — the maximum allowed under city regulations — on April 20.

The party also spent $6,375 on member communications in April to back Harris. These generally take the form of mailers to registered party members touting party-endorsed candidates.

The county party’s top donors, in turn, are stalwarts of Democratic politics.

The biggest donor in the 2015-16 cycle is Protect Neighborhood Services Now, a PAC funded by the San Diego Municipal Employees Association, a labor union representing city workers. The organization has given the party $83,500 so far this cycle.

That’s followed by four other unions.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569, representing workers in San Diego and Imperial Counties, gave $77,735.

The SEIU United Healthcare Workers West PAC, the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California PAC, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees each gave $35,200.

Lori Saldaña

San Diego mayoral candidate Lori Saldana speaks to residents attending the Ocean Beach Town council meeting on April 27, 2016. Megan Wood, inewsource.

Lori Saldaña, who identifies herself as an independent and declared her candidacy in late January, has raised less money than Harris. Her campaign has raised at least $30,702 through May 20.

Her first and only comprehensive campaign finance report, covering contributions through April 23, showed 95 individual donors contributing $271 on average.

Among the handful of donors who have contributed the maximum $1,050 to her primary campaign are several frequent donors to liberal causes, including Lawrence Hess, owner of property management firm Lehbros Ltd., his wife, Suzanne, and Cory Briggs, a local environmental attorney and author of the Citizens’ Plan for tourism management.

Luna, the political science professor, said that if Faulconer ekes out a majority victory on June 7 against such poorly funded candidates, the Democratic Party’s failure to recruit a high-profile challenger will loom large in hindsight.

“This was an election, if you look at the recent polling, where the Democrats with a strong candidate could have possibly taken this — by a narrow margin to be sure — but could have possibly won,” Luna said. “If you don’t play the game you can’t win.”

Joe Yerardi is a freelance data journalist for inewsource, where he worked between 2013 and 2016 as an investigative reporter and data specialist. To contact him with questions, tips or corrections, email joe.yerardi@gmail.com.

2 replies on “With people and PACs, Faulconer dominates San Diego mayoral fundraising”

  1. I am proud of our independent, clean money campaign and small group of dedicated volunteers. They are outworking the many paid staffers, consultants, pollsters and others who are supported by millions of dollars pouring in from some of the biggest corporate polluters in the nation.

    This is how the money chase works: Faulconer vetoes an increase to minimum wage, and Walmart contributes to his campaign. When will we learn what he has he done to earn the support of frackers, big oil and big tobacco?

    Moreover, our campaign has underscored and exposed the deep and long-term dysfunction within City Hall. The problems now being discussed include the loss of 9-1-1 dispatchers, police officers and other essential employees, along with mismanaged affordable housing funds, and problems with other basic, core components of government.

    These are just the tip of the iceberg. Sadly, many of this would never have been part of the public discussion without a campaign- despite his efforts to hide it from public view.

    The fact we’ve polled so well and made such an impact with less than $50K raised from friends, family, neighbors and fellow teachers shows how weak this incumbent is. He may win outright, but those of us who care about this city won’t stop pointing out the obvious: San Diegans need and deserve better.

  2. Come on San Diego, don’t let the big money elite, buy you off! Stand up for YOUR own best interests. Stand up for a mayor, who will be mayor for ALL San Diego! Join me in voting for a true leader and an experienced problem solver; That leader is: Lori Saldana!!! She will be a mayor for all San Diego!

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