Doug Manchester, the new owner of The San Diego Union-Tribune, is well-known for his wide range of political donations. But among the four candidates for San Diego mayor, he seems to have a favorite: City Councilman Carl DeMaio.
Manchester and John Lynch, the new chief executive officer of the Union-Tribune, donated almost half of the total funding for San Diego Citizens for Accountable Government, a public policy action committee DeMaio launched at the start of his San Diego political career. By the end of 2005, the committee had raised $328,500, including $110,000 of DeMaio's own money, $100,000 from Manchester and $38,400 in free airtime for commercials from Lynch's Mighty 1090 radio station, according to campaign disclosures.
In June 2007, soon after DeMaio announced he was running for San Diego City Council, Manchester hosted a campaign fundraiser for the candidate at his home. Manchester, Lynch and Manchester's wife Elizabeth also each donated the maximum amount, $270, to DeMaio's 2008 City Council campaign.
Neither Manchester nor Lynch had donated to any San Diego mayoral campaigns as of June 30, 2011, the most recent date available for San Diego's campaign disclosure forms. Manchester donated $7,800 to the 2010 campaign of state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, another mayoral candidate, but did not give to the other two mayoral candidates, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Congressman Bob Filner, during their previous political runs.
Manchester and Lynch have made no secret of their bold plans for the newspaper, saying in multiple media interviews they will be boosters for business leaders in San Diego and causes they support, including a new Chargers stadium. As new owners of the city's biggest newspaper, Manchester and Lynch can also exert influence over the city's politics, especially the upcoming mayoral election. While it is too soon to determine whether the duo's past support of DeMaio will surface in their newly purchased newspaper, that question is on the minds of some San Diegans.
Manchester did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story. But Lynch said in an interview that his and Manchester's previous support of DeMaio would be taken into consideration when the newspaper makes endorsements.
"We certainly like Carl and appreciate the fact that he has a plan for the city," Lynch said. "But we also think Nathan Fletcher is a great American who served his country and has a great political future. That's basically where we're at. And we don't know the other candidates as well."
Lynch said they had not decided whether the Union-Tribune would make endorsements in the June mayoral primary, but he said he thinks they will endorse DeMaio's pension reform ballot measure, which is also supported by Fletcher and Dumanis. He added that a mayoral candidate's position on a new Chargers stadium would "absolutely" be a factor when he and Manchester choose who to endorse.
DeMaio declined to be interviewed for this story. Instead, his campaign manager, Stephen Puetz, responded to questions by email.
Puetz said DeMaio and Manchester first met in mid-2004, about two years after DeMaio moved to San Diego.
In June 2004, DeMaio had released his proposals for reforming San Diego's finances, which he called the San Diego Citizens’ Budget Plan, and was presenting it to local business and political leaders. He created the plan in collaboration with the libertarian organization The Reason Foundation, where he used to work. (The plan was also based in part on DeMaio's work with the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. But that alliance dissolved over disagreements between DeMaio and the two organizations, according to "Target San Diego," a 2005 Center on Policy Initiatives report.)
DeMaio's initial meeting with Manchester was arranged so DeMaio could present his budget plan, and it was one of hundreds DeMaio held with local leaders, Puetz said.
In August 2004, DeMaio launched his San Diego Citizens for Accountable Government committee, with the largest donation besides his own coming from Manchester.
Previous news articles, including a 2005 Union-Tribune story written by Matthew Hall, have quoted DeMaio as saying his company, the for-profit think tank The Performance Institute, also received money from Manchester and Lynch.
"DeMaio said Lynch and Manchester … are still contributing to The Performance Institute," it read.
But Puetz said that information is incorrect.
"Those articles are mistaken and were clearly incorrectly interchanging Carl’s company with his political committee," Puetz wrote in an email. "The contributions were made to (San Diego Citizens for Accountable Government), not The Performance Institute."
Hall said in an email he stands by his story.
"I don't recall the conversation, but I wouldn't have written that if he didn't say it," Hall wrote. "Maybe he misspoke. It was six years ago, and this is the first I'm hearing about it."
Because The Performance Institute is a private for-profit company, its financial records are not publicly available.
Before the November 2004 mayoral election between Ron Roberts, Dick Murphy and Donna Frye, DeMaio used San Diego Citizens for Accountable Government's money and free airtime to make radio ads and fliers that many saw as supporting Roberts, according to a 2005 Union-Tribune story. This perceived support was problematic because independent expenditure committees like DeMaio's cannot work with or support one specific candidate.
Apparently spurred by DeMaio's ads and fliers, the city’s ethics commission released a "Fact Sheet on Independent Expenditures and Express Advocacy" in October 2004, according to a Daily Transcript story.
"That prompted DeMaio's attorney, San Francisco-based Jim Sutton of The Sutton Law Firm, to upbraid the agency for potentially 'chilling free speech' two weeks before a major election," the story said.
San Diego Citizens for Accountable Government also backed ballot initiatives for pension reform and a strong mayor and opposed an increase in the hotel-motel tax. DeMaio and Manchester also both supported Steve Francis in his failed mayoral bid against Mayor Jerry Sanders.
Despite their mutual agreement on and support of many causes and candidates, DeMaio and the new Union-Tribune owners differ slightly in their positions on a new Chargers stadium. While Manchester and Lynch support a new stadium and Lynch has called those who oppose its construction "obstructionists," DeMaio's support is more tepid.
DeMaio has proposed a public-private partnership to create an "integrated sports and entertainment district downtown" and wants to cap the amount of general funds the city spends on the stadium at its current funding level, according to Puetz.
But Puetz said he does not consider DeMaio's position as obstructionist.
"Carl’s approach to the stadium challenge reflects his style of always focusing on solving problems by embracing innovative and creative ideas — and building a consensus around those ideas," he wrote.
If DeMaio becomes mayor, his supporters, including Manchester, will not influence his political decisions, Puetz said.
"Of all the candidates running, DeMaio has shown he is the most independent voice who consistently fights for the interests of everyday taxpayers," he wrote.
Puetz avoided a question about whether Manchester will continue to support DeMaio now that Manchester owns the Union-Tribune.
"Carl is confident Doug Manchester will continue to fight for responsible and accountable government — and a jobs-friendly environment for our local businesses," Puetz wrote.