Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007 | Candidates in next year’s city elections reported their first month’s worth of fundraising efforts Tuesday, with faces familiar to San Diego’s political scene showing the greatest gains in the opening leg of the year-long race.

Carl DeMaio, the government contracting consultant running for the District 5 council seat, showed the most cash as of June 30, the end of the first reporting period. DeMaio disclosed that he raised $112,068 — about half of which came from his own pocket.

Other top recipients for their respective races in 2008 include District 3 candidate Todd Gloria, who raised $48,288, and District 7 candidate April Boling, who raised $44,329. In District 1, Marshall Merrifield’s campaign has the most money on hand in the race, but he lent himself all $10,000 of it.

This first batch of campaign finance disclosures provides an opening glimpse of the 2008 races taking their rudimentary shapes, but they fall far short of offering a clear picture of how the contests will shake out.

The big earners since campaign season opened June 3 are likely to press on in the remaining months as top-tier contenders. Their early receipts will provide an air of legitimacy to prospective supporters looking for a campaign to back.

“It’s a vicious circle: You’re not a serious candidate until you have money, and you’re not getting money until you’re a serious candidate,” said John Kern, a longtime political consultant who is not representing any contenders in the 2008 races.

But just because candidates didn’t have a full war chest by the end of June doesn’t prevent them from becoming leading candidates soon. Many of the anticipated fundraising events have been or will be held in July, August and September, and the campaign itself won’t be heating up until closer to the New Year or even afterward.

In addition, the contributions candidates receive from individuals, which are limited to $270 for council candidates and $320 for contenders in the mayor and city attorney races, make up only one of three pillars in which local political money races stand.

The dollars raised by candidates’ committees are often matched or surpassed by the amount political groups, such as the pro-business Lincoln Club of San Diego County or the union-backed San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, spend independently on a candidate’s behalf.

In addition, political parties can spend an unlimited amount of money communicating with voters registered with their party. Candidates that win the party’s endorsement can then concentrate on spending their money on marketing to undecided voters while the political party spends time shoring up support among their partisan backers.

Those endorsements don’t typically come until the few months leading up to the June 2008 primaries.

“The big money isn’t going to be pouring in until a few weeks before the election,” said political consultant Scott Barnett, who is not working on any 2008 races.

In District 1, which includes the La Jolla and the northwestern suburbs, Merrifield, a security systems executive, loaned himself $10,000 but reported no donors.

Flight school president Phil Thalheimer showed $7,510 in contributions from supporters and a $1,527 loan from himself. Thalheimer narrowly lost the 2004 council race to incumbent Scott Peters after loaning himself more than $1.1 million.

The third declared candidate in District 1, Sherri Lightner did not report any donations. Lightner, a neighborhood activist, said she would begin organizing her campaign in August.

In District 3, which is comprised of uptown neighborhoods such as Hillcrest and North Park, three of the six declared candidates reported. Gloria, an aide to Congresswoman Susan Davis, raised nearly three times as much as the next top earner, public relations professional Stephen Whitburn, who received $17,861.

Substitute teacher John Hartley, a former council member for District 3, raised $3,932 and loaned his campaign another $5,000.

The three other candidates — James Hartline, Robert E. Lee and Rocky Neptun — did not file fundraising reports.

The District 5 race to represent the northeastern suburbs along the Interstate 15 corridor includes three candidates — DeMaio, school board member Mitz Lee and attorney Bob Ilko.

DeMaio out-raised his opponents by collecting $56,169 in donations from individuals, mostly from members of the business community. He also provided his campaign with $100,000 of his own money, with about $44,101 of that coming in the form of a loan that can be paid back to him.

“Anytime you spot the perceived frontrunner, that’s the kind of money you see,” said Kern, who thinks Lee will still prove to be a tough competitor for DeMaio.

The Benefactors

A sampling of some of the notable industries and people who gave to the 2008 candidates.

DISTRICT 1

Phil Thalheimer: Aviation businesses

DISTRICT 3

Todd Gloria: Health care industry, lobbyists, developers, government staff, Port Commissioner Stephen Cushman

John Hartley: Attorneys, professors

Stephen Whitburn: Religious leaders, Democratic activists, Councilwoman Donna Frye

DISTRICT 5

Carl DeMaio: Developers, hotelier Doug Manchester, Republican activists, lobbyists, San Diego Magazine publisher James Fitzpatrick

DISTRICT 7

April Boling: Tourism industry, attorneys, Republican activists, restaurateurs, developers

CITY ATTORNEY

Mike Aguirre: City Attorney’s Office staff, environmental lawyer Cory Briggs, other attorneys, physicians

Lee’s disclosures were not available at the City Clerk’s Office as of press time, but she said in an interview that said she raised $7,382 in the first month. Ilko’s fundraising disclosures were also not on file. Calls placed to him Tuesday were not returned.

In District 7, which includes eastern neighborhoods such as College Area and Tierrasanta, Boling is the lone contender. 10News reporter Marti Emerald is expected to jump into the race after Labor Day, although Emerald has said she remains undecided and therefore has not raised any money.

In the citywide races for mayor and city attorney, little fundraising was seen for the reelection campaigns of Mayor Jerry Sanders, City Attorney Mike Aguirre or their opposition.

Sanders, who does not currently have an opponent, did not report any contributions as of press time. Aguirre raised $1,610, almost all from members of the City Attorney’s Office. His only competitor as of now, attorney Dan Coffey of Otay Mesa, did not report any contributions.

But while Aguirre didn’t spend much time raising money for his 2008 contest, documents show he was busy making the rounds to raise back the money he loaned his campaign committee in 2004.

Aguirre raised $16,896 for his 2004 campaign during the first half of this year, which allowed him to personally pocket $12,500 for himself during that six-month period. Aguirre is permitted to solicit money while in office in order to extinguish past campaign debt.

During June, the only month in this reporting period that he was allowed to raise money for his 2008 race, Aguirre raised $2,750 to pay off his 2004 campaign’s debt to himself.

The law has since been changed so that a candidate has to pay back all of his or her debt within 180 days, but Aguirre and other candidate prior to 2005 were grandfathered in.

(Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly identified the district of candidate April Boling. She is the only declared candidate in District 7. We regret the error.)

Please contact Evan McLaughlin directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.

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