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'Independent' donations fuel city council races

During the run-up to Tuesday's election, the leading candidates in San Diego's two most heavily contested City Council districts have drawn more than $1.6 million in political contributions, despite restrictions designed to tamp down election spending.

In San Diego, it's against the law for a person to contribute more than $550 directly to a City Council candidate's campaign, and most contributions come in much lower — typically between $100 and $300.

But there are no such restrictions on "independent committees," which theoretically operate independently of the candidate's campaign but nevertheless raise money to support (or sometimes oppose) specific candidates.

Those committees have given a greater voice to wealthy individuals, companies and labor unions who find the $550 rule too restrictive. More than a third of the money raised in the City Council's second and sixth districts came through those committees.

Although City Councilmember Lorie Zapf technically isn't an incumbent in District 2 — Kevin Faulconer's old seat, whose borders were redrawn during the last round of district realignments — the power of incumbency likely helped her take the lead in raising individual contributions.

Over the past year or so, her campaign has collected $482,830 in direct political contributions, led by real estate and construction concerns. But she also received nearly $250,000 in independent contributions, including $20,050 from the William D. Lynch development company in Rancho Santa Fe; $20,000 from the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Indians; $15,000 from Stuck in the Rough, a golf course operator in Beverly Hills; and $10,000 from Thomas Sudberry, head of Sudberry Properties.

Business associations also donated heavily, including $25,000 from the California Restaurant Association and $20,000 from the local Building Industry Association.

Those same donors contributed similar amounts of money to Christopher Cate, vice president of the San Diego Taxpayer's Association, who is running in District 6.

Zapf's leading opponent, Sarah Boot, is an attorney whose $195,170 contributions mainly come from local law firms, including nearly $10,000 from her former colleagues at Cooley LLC and the U.S. Attorney's Office.

There are no independent committees raising money on her behalf, but she is a beneficiary of a $150,000 committee aimed at defeating Zapf, fed with contributions from the municipal and firefighters unions, which do not like her stances on labor policies.

Carol Kim, a teacher running in District 6, has collected $95,164 in direct contributions, mostly from fellow educators, as well as $864 in "independent help" from the American Federation of Teachers, who have staffed phone banks and walked precincts touting her campaign. But the biggest single addition to her campaign was $25,199 from the San Diego City Firefighters.

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City of San Diego Executive(s):

Sherri Lightner

  • Council President Pro Tem

Kevin Faulconer

  • Mayor

Todd Gloria

  • Council President

Myrtle Cole

  • City Council Member

Mark Kersey

  • City Council Member

Lorie Zapf

  • City Council Member

Scott Sherman

  • City Council Member

David Alvarez

  • City Council Member

Marti Emerald

  • City Council Member

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