Jan. 23 2012 12:00 AM

With U-T purchase, John Lynch and Doug Manchester can now secretly lobby council members

Artist's rendering of the U-T's 10th Avenue Marine Terminal proposal
Credit: U-T San Diego

If you read U-T San Diego's front-page and editorial package this Sunday, which promoted a fantastic new proposal for the bay front, complete with artistic renderings, you were probably thinking to yourself, isn't a newspaper supposed to report news, not make it?

Ideally, yes, except that the U-T's new owners, media executive John Lynch and hotel tycoon Doug Manchester, have their own set of ideals, which seem to have very little to do with journalism. Promoting this convention center/sports arena/stadium project, they say, is the newspaper's new No. 1 priority.

In the editorial, the writers make reference to "U-T San Diego executives and editorial board members" taking a meeting with Mayor Jerry Sanders to discuss the proposal. We've also heard that Lynch has been lobbying individual City Council members, who are expected to vote on a financing plan for a long-planned Convention Center expansion this week.

But is it actually lobbying? No, it's not.

Normally, developers would need to register as lobbyists if they're going to approach elected officials. They would need to disclose who they met with, the issue being broached as well as what they're spending to lobby for it. However, the city's lobbying ordinance includes this big, fat exception for media organizations:

The following persons and activities are exempt from the requirements of this division...

(b) any newspaper or other regularly published periodical, radio station, or television station (including any individual who owns, publishes, or is employed by any such newspaper, periodical, radio station, or television station) that in the ordinary course of business publishes news items, editorials, or other comments or paid advertisements that directly or indirectly urge action on a municipal decision, if such newspaper, periodical, radio station, television station, or individual engages in no other activities to influence a municipal decision

In other words, Manchester and Lynch can pretty much ignore the city's rules, including fundraising disclosures, gift restrictions and registration fees, because they now own a newspaper.

Of course, it only cost them $110 million or so, but hey, that's one way to cut through the red tape.


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