Thursday, June 14, 2007 | Matt Adams carries a lot of weight with the San Diego County Republican Party.

Adams is the chief lobbyist for the Building Industry Association, which also has a political action committee known as the Building, Associates, Contractors PAC.

The political action committee gave the local Republican Party more than $170,000 between September 2005 and October 2006. That was nearly one-tenth of what the party raised over that whole period.

The way the party uses this money has transformed local politics and made virtually meaningless the city of San Diego’s rigid limits on contributions to candidates. I’ve tried to describe (in this column and on the television) how.

Needless to say, Adams’ clients and anyone else can give unlimited amounts to local political parties. And those parties can spend it in unlimited quantities in coordination with candidates and their committees.

Adams has a seat on the local Republican Party’s Central Committee. And so Monday night, when Adams made a motion that the party endorse Mayor Jerry Sanders’ campaign for reelection, his colleagues on the committee listened.

Adams said the move came up spontaneously.

“They started talking about the mayor and the meeting and I said, ‘Why don’t we go for it now?’” Adams said.

The committee agreed and, by Tuesday night, it had sent out an announcement.

I thought it seemed pretty early for an endorsement of the mayor. Obviously, the party would be inclined to support Sanders’ reelection. It tends to favor incumbents. Even when former Mayor Dick Murphy was struggling with scandal after scandal, the Republican Party stayed loyal, much to the chagrin of his main challenger for most of the campaign, county Supervisor Ron Roberts.

When Murphy eventually resigned from office, the Republican Party — through a wrenching bit of late-night maneuvering — decided to endorse businessman Steve Francis to replace him.

Francis has let it be known he is considering another run at the Mayor’s Office. I thought the Republicans would give him a hearing. Most organizations at least pretend to consider everyone for an endorsement. And Francis is the state Republican Party’s finance chairman.

But they decided not to even consider him.

And Francis is not happy.

The early endorsement is not meaningless. Not at all. As the chief operating officer of the Republican Party, Jonathan Buettner, just told me, it will allow the party to build a “war chest” for Sanders.

Unlike the city’s strict restrictions, which cap donations to candidates at $320, there are no limits on donations to the political parties. And the parties can spend that on anything they need to communicate with their members about the race. They can do polls, pay consultants, send mailers and they can coordinate it all with the candidates themselves.

The only thing they can’t do is send any of the “communications” to people who aren’t members of the party.

What this endorsement means for Sanders is that major donors can start to send tens of thousands of dollars to the Republican Party now in support of Sanders. And he and the party can coordinate to use that against Francis if the businessman decides to again run for mayor.

Will the Republican Party spend money in to support Sanders in a primary race against anyone who might run, including Francis?

“Well, we did do member communications in support of Francis two years ago, so it’s certainly a possibility,” Buettner said.

His boss, the chairman of the local party, Tony Krvaric refused to directly answer my question about whether that possibility would become a reality.

But he did say this:

“The party will support the endorsed candidates with the resources we have. The mayor is one of those endorsed candidates,” Krvaric said.

I asked why Krvaric would endorse so early and why they wouldn’t even consider other candidates. After all, even if it’s a definite that the party would endorse an incumbent mayor, you might think they would at least wait to see if there was anyone else to consider. Most organizations at least pretend they’re keeping an open mind.

Then again, Francis has been waffling about whether to run. You can’t wait forever for him to decide. But the election is still a year away.

All Krvaric would say was this:

“I have the utmost respect for Steve Francis,” Krvaric said. “The party has a history of giving preferential treatment to incumbents. It’s nothing new.”

I asked if that means the party just simply refuses to consider other candidates if an incumbent is running.

He said. “No, I wouldn’t say that.”

What would he say?

“We have the utmost respect for Steve Francis. We have an incumbent mayor who is doing a good job and we support him for re-election,” Krvaric said.

Francis may have wondered how much respect they have for him if they wouldn’t even consider endorsing him. Even the Sierra Club will interview the most hardened anti-environment industrialist who might be running for office.

Francis said he was upset they party would get involved this early. He’s well aware of the party’s power to affect things with its unlimited donor base.

“It did catch me off guard,” Francis said. “It’s part of an effort by Sanders and (his political consultant) Tom Shepard to edge me out of a potential race.”

He said the endorsement appeared to have been unusually “rushed through.”

I asked Adams why the Republicans would endorse so early.

“Why not?” Adams asked.

“Wouldn’t you want to see if there were other candidates worth considering?”

“None comes to mind.”

“What about Steve Francis? He’s considering a campaign.”

“Considering and running are two different things,” Adams said.

“OK, but why not wait? Why do you need to endorse now?”

“It’s important to coalesce around your candidate and prepare for your campaign,” Adams said.

Shepard said he did work with Republican Party officials to get them to endorse Sanders.

And it’s natural, Shepard said, that the party would want to get the endorsement out of the way early.

“There are, I’m sure, much more contentious races the party will have to make decisions about and they wanted to get an easy one out of the way,” Shepard said.

He shrugged off the idea that the Republican Party was trying to send a message to Francis to stay out of the race. After all, Francis already got the nomination once and could’ve been hoping for it — and all of its advantages — again.

Francis is famous for his deep pockets and Republican values. Ironically, if he does run for mayor, it appears as though he’ll have to fight the deepest pockets the local Republican Party can muster.

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

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