At a June 14 press conference, San Diego City Councilmember Carl DeMaio stood behind eight cardboard filing boxes, filled with what he said were petitions containing enough signatures to put his long-touted city-contracting measure on the November ballot.
Channeling his best JFK, DeMaio declared, "Today, San Diego voters take back control of city government."
That statement could prove premature. Results released late Monday of a statistical-sample count by the county Registrar of Voters showed that the petitions DeMaio handed in didn't contain the 96,834 valid signatures-15 percent of the city's registered voting population-the ballot measure needs to qualify. In a statement later that evening, DeMaio said he'd appeal, which means he'll have to pay for a hand count. The cost for that hand count, San Diego City Clerk Elizabeth Maland told CityBeat on Tuesday, is estimated to be $150,000.
When it cost at least $190,000 to gather those signatures in the first place, what's another $150,000?
Described in press releases as a grassroots signature-gathering effort, two committees-Reforming City Hall with Carl DeMaio and San Diegans for Fair and Open Contracting-have spent, so far, at least a quarter-million dollars to get the so-called Competition and Transparency in City Contracting measure on the November ballot. Among other things, the measure would make it easier for the private sector to compete for jobs currently held by city employees and, as critics of the measure have pointed out, it would nullify a city law that requires contractors to pay their workers an hourly rate higher than the state's minimum wage, as well as either provide healthcare benefits or pay a benefit stipend.
The cardboard filing boxes contained 134,441 signatures.
To get those signatures, a little more than $170,000 went to The La Jolla Group, a longtime local signature-gathering company, according to campaign-finance disclosures. (Bob Glaser, owner of The La Jolla Group, declined to say how many signatures he gathered for DeMaio or what his company was paid per signature.) Another $2,194 was paid to independent signature gatherers, and $500 was spent to rent booths at community events, specifically for signature gathering. The most recent disclosures show Reforming City Hall with Carl DeMaio paying $16,000 to a local company called Hale Media Inc., also for signature gathering. Hale Media is owned by DeMaio's boyfriend, Johnathan Hale.
Do a Google search for Hale Media and you come to a splash page advertising two websites: SDGLN.com and something called SDPix.com. The former, San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, is an online-only news and entertainment site that's positioned itself as a competitor to the more established Gay and Lesbian Times. SDPix, which is published monthly, always includes a photo series featuring a buffed-out, scantily clad male centerfold along with nightlife photographs taken at clubs that advertise with the publication. Hale has done web work for some of Hillcrest's more prominent gay establishments, like Baja Betty's, Urban Mo's and Rich's, and is listed as having registered URLs like shopcock.com and slappedbyjesus.com. In January, the company registered the URL ReformSanDiego.com, the ballot-measure campaign's official website. San Diegans for Fair and Open Contracting, the other committee that's raised money for the ballot measure, shows a total of $2,225 going to Hale Media for IT work.
When CityBeat contacted Hale, he said he hadn't done any paid work for the campaign, only volunteered and took photos. When asked about the $16,000 payment for signature gathering, he said the campaign would have to answer that question.
Campaign spokesperson Jennifer Jacobs described Hale Media's role as, basically, a payroll service.
"We had a crew of paid-intern types who were doing signature gathering, and they have to have a mechanism to get paid," she said. "So [Hale] paid the signature gatherers and then [$16,000] was the reimbursement from the campaign."
Jacobs said that because the committee's treasurer lives in Orange County, it was easier to have Hale cut the checks. "It just happened to be that it was easier to do it out of where Johnathan was and where Carl was making his fundraising phone calls," she said. "This isn't an uncommon thing."
CityBeat ran this scenario past a number of longtime campaign consultants and got an almost-unanimous Huh?
"I don't understand the purpose of it," said John Dadian of Dadian & Associates.
"Why does it really matter where your treasurer is? I e-mail the invoices and they put a check in the mail. Why would it be any different in Orange County?" said Jennifer Tierney of the Gemini Group.
"This is not even close to passing the smell test," said Chris Crotty of Crotty Consulting.
All three questioned why campaign disclosures didn't show an in-kind contribution from Hale Media for the use of its office.
Stacey Fulhorst, executive director of the city's Ethics Commission, which enforces campaign laws in San Diego, said that while she's not come across this sort of payment system, it's fairly common for a campaign consultant to cover costs and then get reimbursed. She said that any payments of $500 or more made by someone on behalf of a campaign committee would need to be disclosed on campaign reports as sub-vendor payments.
Reforming City Hall with Carl DeMaio shows Hale Media as making sub-vendor payments in two instances: to rent a table at the Little Italy Festa Siciliano for the purpose of signature gathering, and to pay for website work done by Jessica King, SDPix's webmaster.
Neither Jacobs nor DeMaio responded to additional questions from CityBeat by press time, asking how many interns were employed, what exactly was the scope of their jobs, why the use of the Hale Media office wasn't listed as an in-kind contribution and whether the committee could provide documentation to support Jacobs' explanation of the payment system.
Lorena Gonzalez, head of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, which opposes the ballot measure, said the fact the committee used paid interns brings up additional questions.
"Who are these interns? Are they being paid a state rate?" she said. "There are rules about work hours and what they need to be paid. We don't know any of that because it's all hidden."
An earlier version of this article said that the websites for Beja Betty's and Urban Mo's are registered to Jonathan Hale. That's not accurate; Hale initially registered the sites, but DCSS, Inc. is the current owner.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.