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Snow is a rare occurrence in San Diego. So too is a candidate whose fundraising doesn’t cross party lines and interest groups even in today’s polarized, partisan environment. That’s why I found it interesting when former local Democratic Party Chair Jess Durfee released a “confidential” memo telling a skewed, one-sided story about political fundraising and my campaign for San Diego City Council.
Durfee makes an exaggerated implication that the local Republican Party can somehow “take over” the local Democratic Party via right-leaning Democratic candidates who accept donations from Republicans. He also implies that accepting funds and support from somebody who is not true-blue or true-red, depending on your party preference, is unusual. The fact is: It isn’t.
First, it’s important to understand how candidates for an office like City Council raise money. We hire professional fundraisers who know where the money is. Yes, there are donors who will only give to one party, but there are also people who look at the political environment, assess the candidate on a variety of issues and weigh who is likely to win. They may lean to one side or the other, but they will sometimes cross the aisle. These people are gold in the fundraising world in the same way that independent or decline-to-state voters are on Election Day.
For example: Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, who’s running for state Senate, is a candidate with unassailable liberal credentials whose campaign has been liberally replenished with money from the more conservative side of the ledger. Atkins accepted $1,000 from the California Restaurant Association as well as three contributions totaling $5,500 from the Building Industry Association in 2012. Even my boss, Todd Gloria, who is a staunch Democrat and running for Atkins’ Assembly seat, accepted $4,200 from developer Dene Oliver. Marshall Merrifield, a Republican and former candidate for City Council, gave Todd $2,000 for his Assembly race.
People take campaign contributions where they can get them. In the case of the race for San Diego City Council District 3, which was the topic of Durfee’s memo, Durfee claimed that the party was in danger because I have accepted funding from some right-leaning sources. But what about my opponent, Chris Ward, who is without question Durfee’s chosen candidate?
Well, Ward’s campaign includes maximum donations from both Bill and Ann Evans, who own Evans Hotels, and are frequent funders of business and right-leaning candidates/efforts. Stephen Cushman, president of Cush Enterprises, and also a well-known giver on the right side of the aisle, maxed out to Ward. And these are only a few examples. There are many others.
The fact that Durfee isn’t bothered by Ward’s acceptance of these contributions seems to imply that there is some sort of “acceptable level of funding” from the other side. So that begs the question: What is it? And who decides? Or, is it just a matter of convenience? It’s convenient for favored candidates to receive these funds yet a reason to sound the alarm if you’re not the favored candidate.
What Durfee also omitted from his “GOP takeover” memo is that my opponent sought, and did not receive, support from the California Restaurant Association. Since he wanted their support, we have to assume that he would have also accepted their contributions should they have been offered and he would be sitting on thousands of dollars from restaurant owners, boosting his total from right-leaning sources. Would the bar for how much is acceptable have magically gone up at that point?
It’s also worth mentioning that Ward paid a recent visit to both the Lincoln Club and the Downtown San Diego Partnership – two well-known conservative groups – undoubtedly to earn their support. That fact was also conveniently omitted from Durfee’s memo.
It’s ironic that our local Democratic Party preaches an open and accepting environment that encourages people to get involved in the process. Yet, if you interfere with the agenda of the establishment members or have a perspective that may differ slightly with the sentiments of the establishment, you will be shunned. That’s the reality, folks.
However, here’s another reality: I am a Democrat, and I will always be a Democrat because I believe in our platform and our work to help all people have the chance to succeed.
Anthony Bernal serves as Councilman Todd Gloria’s director of business and community projects and is a candidate for City Council District 3.