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News broke late Tuesday about a major political finance scandal involving San Diego’s current and previous mayoral elections.

A federal complaint filed Tuesday alleges a Mexican citizen, a former San Diego Police Department detective and a campaign consultant illegally funneled more than $500,000 to various candidates into San Diego municipal and federal campaigns in 2012 and 2013, principally the 2012 and 2013 mayoral elections. The former SDPD detective, Ernesto Encinas, wanted the next mayor to fire Police Chief William Lansdowne and replace him with a chief of Encinas’ choosing, the complaint said.

The complaint lists four unnamed candidates in mayoral and federal races who were the targets of the donations.

The case has the potential to upend San Diego politics — yes, again — in the middle of another mayoral election.

The U-T reported, based on a source close to the investigation, that mayoral candidates Bonnie Dumanis, Bob Filner and Nathan Fletcher were the ones whose campaigns were at the center of the scheme. The complaint does not give any evidence that the candidates themselves were aware of the allegedly illegal efforts. The connection seems most certain to a political action committee that supported Dumanis’ mayoral bid. Dumanis told Liam Dillon in an interview late Tuesday night that it appeared that was the case.

She said her mayoral campaign had no contact with the independent committee at issue.

“I didn’t know anything about the investigation until I read it” Tuesday, Dumanis said.

Fletcher told Dillon Tuesday night: “I’ve never met or had any contact with any of the people listed in the complaint. It’s all news to me.” Fletcher clarified he hadn’t met anyone whose actual name appears in the complaint, nor the Mexican national.

The complaint does list two confidential informations who had ties to various candidates and campaigns. High-profile political consultant Tom Shepard, who was close to Filner and Fletcher, told Dillon and others he was not one of the informants and hadn’t been contacted by law enforcement.

Also, the campaigns of both current mayoral candidates, David Alvarez and Kevin Faulconer, told Dillon their candidate is not involved.

Cops to Devote Focus to Racial Profiling Data

San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne says the police department is going to overhaul how it monitors itself to make sure its officers don’t engage in racial profiling. The move comes in light of our coverage.

In light of a letter from 40 local groups expressing concern, Landsdowne also backtracked from previous comments suggesting that he didn’t believe community members were much concerned about racial profiling.

How Many Charter Schools Are Too Many?

As we reported, the San Diego school board just rejected a charter school proposal even though its organizers seemed to followed the rules. Now, we take a look at whether the district really is “saturated” with charter schools, like one school board member suggested.

• In a commentary, education guru Diane Ravitch is rebutting our Scott Lewis’ evisceration of her claim that the San Diego school district is the best urban district in the nation: “I based that conclusion on the spirit of collaboration and teamwork that now characterizes the district’s staff and leadership. Teamwork and collaboration are the ingredients that make a school system a good place to teach and a good place to learn.”

Of Cockroaches & Humanity: Campaign Ad Roundup

USA Today examines a bizarre Internet ad from Carl DeMaio, who’s running for Congress against incumbent Rep. Scott Peters. Never mind that the primary isn’t until June. The ad is already out, noting that Congress has a bad reputation, just like some other nasty things like zombies and Lindsay Lohan.

“Unlike out-of-control celebrities, roaches and walking dead people, Congress actually affects our lives every day,” the narrator says. “Carl DeMaio thinks it’s time to clean up the mess in Congress and take a new approach to solving problems.”

The ad fails to mention that people often hate Congress but like their own representative. That’s why incumbents keep getting elected except sometimes in rare competitive districts, like this one.

• A political consultant (and former newspaper editor) tells Campaigns & Elections that he’s trying to humanize mayoral candidate Kevin Faulconer through TV ads that show him around the city. “I would interview him like a journalist and he would get more and more comfortable and start to have a real conversation. And he, himself as a person came through. That can get lost for a lot of candidates.”

• While his supporters have distributed mailers suggesting rival David Alvarez is a lackey of minority neighborhoods, Faulconer has a new plan to “close the economic, educational and public safety divide between the communities north and south of Interstate 8,” the U-T reports.

The Year that Was in SD Housing

Rich Toscano, VOSD real estate and economy guru, returns to our pages with a chart-laden look at the local housing market in 2013: “The big news was in prices: They went up. A lot.”

Quick News Hits

• The Culture Report, our weekly look at all things cultural and artistic, tracks the renaissance of El Cajon Boulevard (it’s true!) plus art by a VOSD contributor, the reopening of the San Diego African-American Museum of Fine Arts, a “beyond extreme music festival” and more.

• Toni Atkins is poised to become the next Assembly speaker. (Sacramento Bee)

• KPBS outlines the fight over San Diego’s decision to draw water from the city-owned Lake Morena reservoir in East County. The city says it needs the water to keep costs down. Some East County residents, including County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, argue the city should only use the water in an emergency situation.

• Urban renewal is dead. Long live urban renewal? Maybe. Redevelopment — the clunky term for government-sponsored building projects in run-down neighborhoods — may come to life once again in California. U-T columnist Steven Greenhut has the details.

• For the U-T photo department, it’s been a case of agony (thanks to a headline writer whose words detracted from an awesome picture) and ecstasy (an amazing shot of a dolphin jumping next to surfers).

• Hollywood often uses Canadian cities to substitute for American ones since it can be cheaper to film up there.

But what happens when a filmmaker wants to create a fake San Diego? Well, he could just stay here. (San Diego slam!) Or he could try … Wellington, New Zealand? That’s just what a director did, using “beaches and temperate rainforest in Wellington to recreate the feel of San Diego over five weeks of filming,” a Kiwi website reports.

Of the two cities, the website says “one is hot, sunny, beachy, dusty and known for its massive biotechnology center. The other is windy and has a film industry — but all the hot air comes from the politicians.”

Is this what they mean when they say distinction without a difference?

Clarification: This post has been updated to better reflect Fletcher’s comments about the campaign finance scandal.

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego and vice president of the American Society of Journalists & Authors. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/rdotinga.

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Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. Please contact him directly at randydotinga@gmail.com...

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