It certainly looks like councilman and aspiring mayor Carl DeMaio got caught with his hand in the cookie jar today, soliciting contributions for his mayoral campaign earlier than permitted by law.
An invitation for his campaign launch reception went live over Memorial Day weekend, according to a release from the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council. The trouble with all of that is… it violates San Diego’s election law. According to San Diego Municipal Election Campaign Control Ordinance Section 27.2938(a):
It is unlawful for any candidate or controlled committee seeking elective City office to solicit or accept contributions prior to the twelve months preceding the primary election for the office sought. This restriction does not apply to contributions made by a candidate to his or her controlled committee.
Camp DeMaio immediately took the site down after the Labor Council release dropped. That’s particularly notable since it’s DeMaio’s primary non-city account.
That’s tricky, because a series of screenshots provided by the Labor Council’s Kyle Haverback documents rather clearly the entire process of making an online donation to the DeMaio campaign. They walk through the process of donations being accepted by “Carl DeMaio for Mayor 2012″ and thanking the donor for supporting the campaign.
Puetz asserts that nowhere in these shots is there a solicitation, and that the $5 donation that Haverback says he made has not been processed. This is a semantic argument that teeters on the edge of reason. On a page that clearly says “Paid for by Carl DeMaio for Mayor 2012″ appear the words “Join Carl for a fundraising reception to help him raise the resources to get his message out.” It’s hard to imagine what soliciting would mean if not exactly that.
The internal contribution page offers the options “Contribute Today,” “Monthly Contribution Program,” “‘Fundraise from Friends’ Program.” Now, “Contribute Today” is pretty unambiguous. And if it was live on May 30th or 31st, that’s also pretty unambiguous. Put them together, and it would make a rather unambiguous violation of the above San Diego law.
It further provides visitors with prompts like “I would like to contribute the following amount (limit $500 cumulative per person)” and “YES, Sign me up for the Monthly Contribution Program. Please bill my card this amount each month.” That’s pretty standard boilerplate for campaign donation pages, and I’m unaware of a single campaign ever with a donation page that was not soliciting donations with its language.
Since online contributions are generally not processed immediately, it’s entirely likely that a $5 donation would not have worked its way through the system by the time this story broke earlier today. But the confirmation page captured by Haverback is again standard boilerplate reflecting that the donation information has been successfully received and will be processed.
This is not the first brush that the DeMaio campaign has had with campaign finance ethics. Earlier this month, press releases were being directly cross-posted between his council website and his Clean Up City Hall website, paid for with a campaign account. The legality of this remains in question, but it would constitute — at minimum — a ton of ethics questions at every level of government through Senate and President. After being noted publicly, the release in question
was scrubbed from the website. moved off the front page. As far as we know here, there’s still a pending Ethics investigation into this.
While the call from the Labor Council’s Lorena Gonzalez for DeMaio “to own up to the mistake, apologize to the public, and give back any of his illegal contributions to make this right” is right on, it won’t happen. What’s more disconcerting than the rather clear violation of election law is that it continues a troubling pattern of ethics violations. Whether this reflects ignorance of city election law, a disregard for those regulations, or some combination, it isn’t a particularly heartening signal of what the city could expect if DeMaio were to actually become mayor.
by Lucas O’Connor