“The difference in golf and government is that in golf you can't improve your lie.”—Former California Gov. George DeukmejianObservations from the 19th hole:
• It will be interesting to see which vaunted venue will cost more first for pay-to-play—18 holes at the now-U.S.-Open-anointed Torrey Pines Golf Course, or the local political realm.
Spin Cycle's bet is on our incestuous political sphere, where, suddenly, because a rich guy ran for mayor, the sky is falling and the city's campaign contribution limit needs to be jacked up threefold—from $320 to $1,000. And never mind that the rich guy, Steve Francis, the Tiger Woods of the rental-nurse industry, got stuck in the sand trap of negativity and lost.
Oh, the green-fee hike will come in due time to city-owned Torrey Pines, for the past week the focus of the golf-watching world and an apparent natural for future U.S. Opens with its nail-biting, extra-day playoff finish. But smartly, the U.S. Golf Association, which puts on the national championship, included language in its contract that San Diego leaders—as we know, eager to make a buck any way they can—are expressly prohibited from raising the price of a round of golf at Torrey Pines for city residents until 2009.
(Of course, now that Mayor Jerry Sanders and Union-Tribune city columnist Gerry Braun have wandered the carpeted links of Kearny Mesa, there's no telling what the price of a round of miniature golf will soar to—or sink. Just wondering: Is there nowhere Sanders goes without flak-on-steroids Freddy Sainz and two bodyguards? He's a former cop, for crikey's sake!)
No, our local political Einsteins seem intent on moving full force on the Incumbent Bankrolling Plan of 2008. It's fun to read all the sturm and drang over this issue, particularly from the mayor's nursemaids over in the U-T's editorial department, headed by chief nurse Bob “Can I Fluff Your Pillow?” Kittle.
Even while acknowledging that San Diego's tough campaign-finance laws have “worked well,” Kittle & Co. this weekend seemed panicky about future gazillionaire candidates like Francis. Despite Sanders' victory, the mayor's race “highlighted how lopsided campaign funding can be when a candidate can reach into his own deep pockets on his own behalf,” Team Bob wrote.
Yeah, Bob, much better reaching into somebody else's deep pockets than your own. The San Diego Reader noted last week that Sanders would be the benefactor Monday of a gathering of check-toting commercial real-estate folks. With pockets like those and other friends of the local Building Industry Association, who needs pants?
As the BIA itself boasts on its website, “Our industry's grassroots efforts paid off. Every major race that BIA supported either won outright on June 3, or finished first in a run-off for the November General Election.” That's grassroots, as in greenbacks.
Robert Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies and a campaign-finance expert, thinks the San Diego campaign contribution limit should not head toward the stratosphere. “You have very competitive races with your limits, so why change the law?” he told Spin Cycle this week.
Stern did concede that deep-pocketed candidates are “a problem,” but he questioned whether tripling the current limit would solve that problem or simply create new ones, like quelling the voice of ordinary citizens who can't afford to cough up a grand to gain access to a decision maker.
“I think your current system works well,” he said. “Your limits are raised every few years based on cost-of-living increases.”
In truth, he added, it's incumbents who don't like rich opponents. When asked if this is simply a case of financial envy, Stern countered, “No, it's a fear of losing.”
Robert Fellmeth, head of the University of San Diego's Center for Public Interest Law, also sees a little self-serving coming from our supposed newspaper of record. “Unless you're riding some kind of populist wave,” he explained, “the media to a large extent is the kingmaker: ‘Yes, he is a serious candidate' or ‘No, he's not, we'll put him on the back page.'”
And kingmaker means big moneymaker. Newspapers and especially TV stations are, in the end, great benefactors of campaign races. “It's huge money for them,” Fellmeth said. “And they're not discounting their [advertising] rates very much. You pay top dollar. Probably about half of campaign money goes to media buys and postage.”
Both Stern and Fellmeth agree that public campaign financing would effectively purge the current system of its stench. “That's what they do in Los Angeles and New York, even the state of Arizona, a very conservative place,” Fellmeth said.
Fellmeth touts a 5-to-1 matching system where candidates raise 20 percent and the city kicks in the other 80 percent. He estimates that such a system would require only a tenth of 1 percent of the city's budget.
“You're paying to make sure that the other 99.9 percent of the budget is spent on merit,” he argued, but added that nothing will happen on public campaign financing until the city gets its own house in order.
In the end, Spin Cycle doesn't believe incumbents should be worried about candidates with deep pockets—just candidates with deep pockets and a personality. Luckily for Sanders, he ran against a rich opponent almost devoid of one.
• Following receipt of lame-duck Councilmember Jim Madaffer's most recent, 5,900-word “eNewsletter” touting his accomplishments, Spin Cycle took a deep breath after regaining consciousness and asked Madaffer if he was imitating that annoying real-estate guy on TV who grovels, “I'm not bragging; I'm applying for a job!”
Spin Cycle wanted to know if rumors are true that Madaffer covets heading up the city's future rejiggered Redevelopment Agency. The e-mail response was eerily reminiscent of the Five Stages of Grief. Here are the highlights of the response and corresponding stages:
1. Nope. I am sure you will keep trying to guess. [Denial]
2. Wow John, as a journalist you should know better than rely on outdated rumors…. You can add this to the many rumored jobs I am supposedly after including heading up SANDAG, League of Cities, etc. I guess in your eyes, elected officials cannot be proactively involved in policy making for the betterment of the San Diego region without creating a ‘staff position' for themselves out of selfish nepotism. [Anger]
3. Thank you for taking the time to review my accomplishments and your kind words—you know well how hard it is to be successful on the 10th floor and I appreciate your support. [Bargaining]
4. What a compliment…. As for the rumor that I want to be head of a revamped, independent Redevelopment Agency—well, it is just that, a rumor. Add it to the list of all the other rumors. [Depression—OK, a stretch, but how do rumors make you feel? See?]
5. First of all, John you basically missed the point. Even if I am positioning, look what I've done for the district. I dare you to find another Councilmember who has done as much as I have. [Acceptance]Yep, Spin Cycle will miss ol' Mad Dog. Wanna challenge Madaffer's dare? Write to to firstname.lastname@example.org.