Complicated trail of campaign contributions shows complex relationships

SAN DIEGO - The effects of the highly controversial Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited spending by anyone for or against candidates are being seen in San Diego.

Campaign ads say the committee behind the ad but not who is funding that committee.

"The single most important issue that members of the public have contacted me about is wanting to know who is paying for disseminating campaign advertisements," said Stacey Fulhorst, the executive director of the city of San Diego Ethics Commission.

Fulhorst said the big bucks now being donated to independent political groups or "super PACs" make transparency critical but tracking the money is complicated.

For example, public campaign filings show San Diegans for Reform in opposition to Bob Filner received nearly 70 percent of its donations – $276,000 since June – from the Lincoln Club of San Diego.

The Lincoln Club's biggest donor in the last two months was the Manchester Financial Group headed by developer and U-T San Diego owner Doug Manchester.

Records also show a $65,000 donation in May to Carl DeMaio for Mayor 2012 from the Republican Party of San Diego. That happens to be the same amount donated to the party by Manchester in March.

Much of this is now possible because of the Supreme Court's 2010 decision.

"It creates a challenge in terms of the disclosure laws that we currently have," said Fulhorst.

Some have strongly questioned the court's reasoning that one degree of separation from super PAC to candidate is enough to eliminate the appearance of corruption.

"According to the Supreme Court, it does not rise to the level of creating an appearance of corruption because the activities of the committee are independent of the candidate," said Fulhorst.

But candidates like DeMaio do not just reap benefits from the court's ruling. Super PACs against DeMaio have also popped up with more than $1.3 million in funding by labor unions.

"What we can do as a city and an ethics commission in response to that is to try to increase the disclosure mechanisms," said Fulhorst.

Next week, the Ethics Committee is recommending to the San Diego City Council a new rule that would require super PACs to disclose in advertising who their top two donors are.

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