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Why Michael McConnell is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to kill a hotel-room tax hike (and why the Tourism Authority paid the GOP to support it). Plus: SB 50 is done, as is its future as a mayoral issue.
Campaign mailers have started going out and, if you’re a voter in the city of San Diego, you have probably gotten one like this from Michael McConnell opposing Measure C, the initiative that would raise hotel room taxes to fund an expansion of the Convention Center, homeless services and road repairs. (Here’s everything you could want to know about it.)
McConnell didn’t create a committee like “People for the Neighborhoods of City Hall United” or “Citizens Against Bipartisan Convention Center Modernization Efforts.” The mailers and social media ads just say “Paid for by Michael McConnell.”
And now, he’s got the attention of City Hall. The latest disclosure available added up his cumulative spending against Measure C to more than $236,000. (No, we didn’t add a zero. He is not messing around.)
He sold his business — the La Jolla Coin Shop — to get money just to spend on this effort. And in October, at Politifest, he said he would spend it. But now it’s real and if the measure really needs two-thirds of the vote to pass, his spending could kill it.
“Why a ‘homeless advocate’ would spend six figures out of their own pocket to kill a funding stream for homelessness is … just beyond me,” tweeted political consultant Ryan Clumpner, who is not working on the measure.
Clumpner’s comments were contemptuous of McConnell’s response. But Clumpner’s was an impolite version of a question many have: Why? Why would McConnell put so much of his personal fortune into an effort like this? He defaults, as he did with Clumpner, to arguments about Measure C, but what’s the motivation?
So we asked him. Here’s our exchange:
POLITICS REPORT: What’s your motivation?
MICHAEL MCCONNELL: I’m not going to benefit from this whether it wins or loses. I’m not running for office. I’m trying to do what I think is the right thing and that is to educate voters about a deeply flawed ballot measure. I just don’t think we should be passing ballot measures like this that could put the city at risk and still not do what they say they’re going to do while using the moral imperative of the homeless crisis, which I find disgusting.
PR: Yes, but why you? Why your own wealth?
MM: It’s advocacy for a better city. This is a good time to stop that pattern of doing things that are not strategic.
PR: Would you have done this had it just been a measure to increase the hotel room tax to pay for a Convention Center expansion?
MM: That’s a good question. And originally, I would have said no. That would have been asking voters to raise a tax for a specific project and I would have assumed that it was enough money to get the project done and I would not have gotten involved. The more I have learned as I have gone through this process, if I did go through that same process, I would be questioning whether it could even accomplish what they were promising.
PR: Do you understand why people would find this peculiar for you to spend so much on this?
MM: Not really. I’ve been extremely direct about this. I’m not blindsiding anyone. My opposition has been very well known for a long time and there has been no effort to improve this measure so that it’s good for homelessness.
We asked McConnell what was next if he succeeds. He said he did polling that showed a straight hotel-room tax increase just to address homelessness doing well above the two-thirds voter threshold required. He tentatively supports the measure to increase property taxes to fund low-income housing units supporters hope to put on the November ballot.
About that, though: The news that Councilwoman Barbara Bry does not necessarily support that property tax hike any longer was more than just intriguing as part of the mayor’s race. Bry is a member of the City Council and for the measure to even get on the ballot, it needs six votes. She’s the sixth.
One of the best Twitter feeds for deep political wonks is the CATargetBot, which posts federal, state and committee campaign finance filings, contributions and election results.
Last week, it tweeted a new disclosure of donations to the Republican Party of San Diego County, which included $5,000 from the San Diego Tourism Authority.
This got some people talking. The Tourism Authority is the former Convention and Visitors Bureau. It gets most of its money now from the Tourism Marketing District, which operates like a business improvement district. The TMD is funded, though, from a 2 percent levy the hotels put on hotel bills of visitors. The city collects it and disburses money to the TMD, which gives about half of its funds to the Tourism Authority.
It seemed a little odd for an agency funded mostly by public dollars to make a contribution to the Republican Party. So we asked Joe Terzi, the retiring CEO of the Tourism Authority, what was up.
He said in a written message that the money came from a separate pool of funds collected from individual hotels and the contribution was made in coordination with the Hotel Motel Association “to get the message out about the importance of supporting the hospitality industry and Measure C.”
One problem, though, is the Republican Party is opposed to Measure C.
Terzi sent along an image of the message the money helped fund in GOP mailers, however. Here it is:
Couple of things there in case it’s too subtle: HE’S TALKING ABOUT MEASURE C. We can’t help but wonder how many times they had to send that text back and forth to get to something the party was OK with. You can’t say Measure C, guys. We are opposed to that!
Also, is this the official announcement that Mayor Kevin Faulconer has endorsed Scott Sherman for mayor? First we’ve seen.
On that: Sherman and Faulconer have had a pretty frosty relationship the last two years. The Union-Tribune asked Sherman recently what grade he would give Faulconer’s mayoral performance.
“I give Kevin a C-plus,” he said. He didn’t feel like Faulconer was aggressive enough.
San Diego Councilwoman Vivian Moreno has nearly three years left on her term, but she’ll be on the March ballot anyway.
Moreno is running for re-election to the San Diego County Democratic Party’s Central Committee in the 80th Assembly District, along with a slate of allies.
The Central Committee governs the local party and, crucially, votes to endorse candidates for local offices. Among those running on Moreno’s slate are former Councilman David Alvarez, her predecessor in the city’s 8th District, and Travis Knowles, chief of staff to Moreno now and Alvarez before her.
Moreno and her allies blocked her 2018 opponent, Antonio Martinez, from winning the party endorsement ahead of that year’s primary, which she said proved to be significant. She wants to make sure they’re in position to do the same ahead of her 2020 re-election bid.
Last year, Moreno represented the pivotal vote that prevented the City Council from imposing higher fees on developers who don’t include apartments reserved for low-income residents in their projects. Siding with Council Republicans and the mayor on the issue put her at odds with organized labor and many Democratic allies, including Council President Georgette Gómez, who championed the adjustment and who had campaigned for Moreno in 2018.
No mayoral endorsement coming: We bumped into Moreno downtown this week, and she told us not to expect her to endorse in the mayoral race. She intends to have a solid working relationship with whoever wins, so isn’t inclined to pick sides. Besides, she said: Neither Assemblyman Todd Gloria nor Councilwoman Bry endorsed her in 2018.
That’s a slight change from where she was last year. Back then, we asked if she had chosen a side in the race and she said no, but that she was eager for the candidates to seek her endorsement, and was happy to say they should each want her support.
The ambitious and controversial housing bill SB 50, which generated national attention and popular hysteria for its promise to remake California by allowing mid-rise apartment projects near jobs and transit throughout the state, died Thursday.
That ends the possibility that it could play a significant role in San Diego’s mayoral race.
Bry staked out an early position against the measure, and earlier this year used the revival of the bill to revive her own warning that “they” are coming for our homes. “’They’ are the YIMBY apologists who have come after single-family neighborhoods,” she wrote.
Gloria, one of Bry’s opponents, had likewise said he opposed the measure. After the bill’s author rolled out amendments this year, seeking to address criticism that it usurped too much local land use authority, Gloria said he still opposed it.
But Bry didn’t accept Gloria’s stated position, since he sought and touted an endorsement from the YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County, a group that rallied support for the measure since it was introduced.
“That must mean he supports things like SB 50,” she said last year.
It was a dead-end argument at the time, but promised to become something more if the bill advanced through the Senate – and if both Bry and Gloria advanced through the March primary. Then, Gloria could have been forced to take a vote on it in the Assembly, right during a mayoral campaign against Bry.
That won’t happen now. But, after SB 50 failed, the bill’s author introduced two placeholder housing bills, and Senate President pro Tem Toni Atkins pledged that a bill focused on housing supply would return this year.
Last week, we listed all the cash-on-hand totals for local campaigns. We described it as the money campaigns would have to spend heading into the heat of the primary in February.
District 1 City Council candidate Will Moore checked in to point out that it didn’t reflect money candidates loan to themselves. In fact, he pointed out, he had a lot more money available to spend than the cash-on-hand showed because he had loaned his campaign $47,000 and that is subtracted to make our cash-on-hand totals.
So, to clarify: Yes, cash-on-hand does not reflect what personal wealth a candidate may put into a campaign. But it’s important to note that loans are just that: loans. There’s no obligation for Moore or any candidate to spend the money they loan to their campaign and many do not spend it all.
They could always just contribute their money to their campaigns, as opposed to loaning it. Then it would show up on our lists as cash on hand. But that means they can never get it back. (Often candidates loan their campaigns money on the hope that, after they win, people impressed with their campaign prowess and future political influence will be willing to donate so the candidate can pay himself back. That repayment is the only legal way a campaign donation can make it into a candidate’s personal bank account.)
So below, we have both how much the candidates have raised for the campaign going back to early 2019 until now and their cash-on-hand totals.
Couple quick notes on this one: First, Vaus has the support of County Supervisor Dianne Jacob who has basically pledged to spend her remaining campaign funds, around $500,000, on his behalf.
Second, Joel Anderson has money left over from a previous large donation facilitated by the Republican Party.
The congressional totals are coming in slowly. The 50th Congressional District totals were ready Friday.
One thing to remember: Darrell Issa has soooo much money. He was long the wealthiest, or close to the wealthiest, member of Congress. He has loaned his campaign $1.2 million. So he has a lot to deploy to compete with DeMaio, who has loans outstanding of more than $260,000.
Megan Wood, again, helped so much with this. She’s a very special person. Andrew Keatts is OK. If you have any ideas for the Politics Report or feedback send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.