Nov. 2 2016 02:23 PM

New PR agency’s bumpy launch on opposition to a downtown Chargers stadium

    Perhaps a new PR firm—Boling Nelson Manolatos Murphy Hong—will emerge from their Measure D experience.
    Photo illustration by John R. Lamb

    Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.

    —Mark Twain


    Today, we stand on one side of the looking glass. By the time we chat again next week, we will have stepped through it—and possibly in it.

    Certainly in Spin Cycle’s lifetime, you would be hard pressed to find an election season as angst-ridden, sound-bit and crap-filled as the current model. If our elected leaders of tomorrow are truly a reflection of society, then society is headed toward a whole load of hurry-up-and-wait.

    But if there’s one segment of society busting at the seams of busyness these days, it is our friends—at least they want to be friends—in the obfuscating world of public relations.

    In San Diego, perhaps this is our penance for electing to our highest, most influential political office—that of mayor—a man steeped in the sleight-of-hand tomfoolery of a vocation whose sole purpose is to make its well-paying clients look good. If a few roads get paved along the way while we talk about the future, well that’s just whipped cream on the mashed potatoes!

    Locally, the talk champion for 2016 has to be the subject of where to house the San Diego Chargers in the future. (Judging by the team’s agonizing play on the field, this is as close to a championship as they’ll see.)

    This discussion has blown air up the skirts of all sorts of segments of society, from the civic-pride fandom crowd to the underserved communities anticipating the short stick in the deal to the plugged-in municipal aristocracy freaking out as its status-quo world melts into puddles of unpredictability.

    Perhaps this explains the wisps of sulfur emanating from the bubbling cauldron of chaos over at the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, a 71-year-old organization self-described as “San Diego’s only independent, nonpartisan government watchdog.” Its purpose and practices have been called into question of late over its 11th-hour entry into efforts to defeat Measure D, the less-discussed, step-cousin from another mother alternative to the hotel-tax-hike proposal from the Chargers, Measure C.

    You may have heard that a political action committee connected to the allegedly non-partisan SDCTA burned its hand on the stovetop while trying to funnel thousands of dollars of hotel-interest cash into Measure D opposition, even though a formal “No on D” committee was never created.

    Not everyone, it turns out, who opposes Measure C for its plan to turn over that hotel-tax hike to the tune of more than $1 billion to a billionaire NFL owner is against Measure D, the measure brought to you by activist attorney Cory Briggs and former San Diego City Councilmember Donna Frye that boosts the hotel tax slightly less but prohibits public subsidy of a stadium.

    How do we know this? Well, the head of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association said so in a contrite email after he spilled the beans in an Oct. 18 San Diego Union-Tribune story that the PAC, thanks primarily to funding from the local Lodging Industry Association, would begin running radio ads and online videos against both C and D.

    In an Oct. 19 email titled “Courtesy Note to No on C folks,” Haney Hong begins, “By now, you might have gotten wind of a fast-moving effort from SDCTA to put out messaging on No on C & D. I regret that I neglected to keep folks posted, and no excuses on my part. Apologies.”

    Then the mea culpa: “Just so you all know, SDCTA opposes both C & D, and I recognize that not everyone in No on C opposes D, so I wanted to keep these efforts separate and away from any of you who might have stakeholders with respect to your position on D. I also got information that SDCTA is the best voice for opposition to C and D, and we are running with it.”

    Spin Cycle tried unsuccessfully to follow up with Hong regarding what he meant by “got information,” but let’s, for now, assume what he meant is the checks cleared. Quickly put on the case to pump out this newly funded opposition message was the new powerhouse PR agency on the block, Manolatos Nelson Murphy Advertising & Public Relations.

    If the names sound familiar, they should. Tony Manolatos is a former Kevin Faulconer staffer and a visible frontman in the “No on C” team. Bob Nelson is a port commissioner who once hired Faulconer when he ran another PR firm. And Kelly Murphy Lamkin is an advertising specialist and daughter of former mayor Dick “10Goals” Murphy, who resigned from office in 2005 amid the city’s pension-underfunding scandal.

    The problem is neither the Lodging Industry Association PAC nor the Taxpayer Association PAC—both served as treasurer by key “No on C” player April Boling—initially decided it didn’t need to file the proper public campaign reports of the independent expenditures. By Monday following hoots and hollers, those reports were filed with the city.

    But Briggs isn’t satisfied. He has sent letters to several radio stations on behalf of San Diegans for Open Government requesting the stations stop running the ads until the disclaimers are revised “to reflect that the majority of the money provided to pay for the ads came from the hotel industry.” Either that, he wrote, or provide equal time to D backers.

    Briggs said Tuesday the stations have acknowledged receipt of the letter, but that is all.

    On the bright side, perhaps hoteliers—standard bearers of the status quo—have their sights on D because they no longer fear C. “They used the risk of D hitting 50 percent to scare everyone into running a campaign against D,” Briggs said.

    For Nelson, his new firm’s abetment of the hoteliers’ wants may have future ramifications on his port duties. “He may have to recuse himself from some future vote were it to come up,” said Gil Cabrera, former chairman of the San Diego Ethics Commission.

    Safe travels through the looking glass, San Diego!


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