Following Caruso Affiliated’s Money Trail
2/22/16: This post has been updated
By Richard Riehl / The Riehl World
When I got an email a few days ago from an unrecognizable sender with the single word “Caruso” in the subject line, I was skeptical. Was this just another phishing expedition? But curiosity got the better of me. Opening it I found the unsigned message, “Caruso Acquisition LLC gave $50,000 to the San Diego County Republican Party on 12/31/15.” It was followed by a link to the California Secretary of State’s website. Checking it out, I found only one thing wrong with the anonymous message. The gift was actually made on December 30.
The timing of the donation struck me as odd. Rick Caruso had already invested $7 million in an attempt to build a shopping center next to Carlsbad’s Agua Hedionda Lagoon. Why the sudden urge to give big bucks to the Republican Party?
I found the answer after a search of San Diego GOP Endorsements: “The Republican Party of San Diego County urges all City of Carlsbad Republicans to vote Yes on Measure A in the February 23rd special election. Support the Republican-controlled Carlsbad City Council…” The site displayed the corporate image of Yes on A yard signs.
It seems the billionaire developer, who could not openly contribute to Carlsbad’s allegedly nonpartisan elected officials, had found a way to buy their favor indirectly.
All three successful candidates in the 2014 election: Matt Hall, Mark Packard, and Michael Schumacher, report donations to the GOP of San Diego County on their campaign finance disclosure forms. Mayor Hall tops the list with $8,000, including one undefined donation amounting to $3,615 and another $2,500 for “table sponsorship for City of Carlsbad Reagan/Lincoln dinner.” Mark Packard paid $2,500 for “campaign literature and mailings.”
The combination of Caruso and Council member candidate GOP donations is a perfect example of “one hand washes the other.”
From studying the California Secretary of State’s Campaign Finance website it’s clear Rick Caruso is politically an equal opportunity benefactor. He’s contributed heavily to the campaigns of Democrats, including Governor Jerry Brown, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, as well as former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. His generosity extends to mostly Democratic Los Angeles City Council candidates.
Given California politics, it’s no mystery why he favors Democratic candidates statewide and in Los Angeles, while supporting Republicans in San Diego County. The common thread seems to be which political party has the power to fill Caruso’s pockets by approving his development plans in their respective voting districts.
But what really caught my eye was how generous he’s been with city council members in Glendale, the site of his splendiferous shopping center, the Americana at Brand, which opened in 2008.
In 2005, the year construction began, the following entries appear in Caruso’s campaign finance disclosure forms. From March 31, to April 4 sixteen payments of $4,000 each are made to a payee, “Glendale Neighborhood Protection,” defined as a “City Council Member,” amounting to $64,000, for “Slate Mailers,” another name for deceptive mass mailers. According to inewsource.com, “They are produced by for-profit organizations who often try to make the flier look like it’s sanctioned by a specific political party.” Sound familiar, Carlsbadians? Remember those glossy Caruso mailers, graced with the smiling faces of all five council members?
On April 5, 2005, Glendale had a City Council Election. Dave Weaver won a 4-year term. A year before Caruso’s shopping center opened in 2008 he contributed $12,000 to help Weaver get elected mayor. He gave him another $1,000 this year for an unsuccessful attempt to retain his seat on the council.
The developer donated $1,000 to Erik Yesayan this year. The candidate had served for five years on the city planning commission. He lost his race for a council seat in the city’s April election.
Editor’s Note: Erik Yesayan has called it our attention that he refused to accept the donation from Caruso Affiliated in the April 2015 Glendale elections.
Glendale City Council member and former mayor, Laura Friedman, who previously served for five years on the Glendale Design Review Board, got the nod this year from Caruso to the tune of $4,200 for her run for a seat in the California Assembly.
Caruso boasts that he arrived in Carlsbad four years ago to begin his campaign for a lagoon mall, meeting with 6,000 residents to explain how wonderful it would be. What he doesn’t tell us is that he also met with City Councilmember Farrah Douglas to lobby for his plan, sweetening the deal with a donation of $3,000 for her run for State Assembly in 2012. She lost that race but was fully on board with the developer. It makes you wonder how many promises Caruso made to other council members.
This year the developer has already given Oceanside City Council member Jerry Kern $1,000 for his campaign for the California Assembly. Oceansiders may want to know what the developer wants in return.
Of the $7 million Caruso has spent on his lagoon mall campaign, more than $2 million is listed as “nonmonetary” contributions. That means goods and services, like his paid army of dishonest canvassers and signature gatherers. A couple of days ago I found an ad in the San Diego UT, promising $22/hr for “canvassers” to promote Yes on Measure A on election day, February 23, from 9 a.m to 8 p.m. Voters should be forewarned of last minute dirty tricks near polling places.
Next week we’ll find out if a billionaire L.A. developer has been able to buy our beautiful Village by the Sea.
Special Election on Measure A is February 23
Prior posts on No on A Campaign here.
Guardian of the lagoon says
Richard you are the real deal. No On A!
Brian Brady says
Wasn’t this property approved, by public vote, for an 80/20 development already?
I’m sure Richard has already answered this in one of his pieces, but NO it was not approved by a public vote. That is why we fought so hard to get a chance to vote on it.
Lori Saldaña says
Brian- Perhaps you are thinking of the Council vote to approve the ballot measure? That is now an acceptable work-around, designed to avoid full CEQA standards, public comment and review: a “let the people decide” approach, which sounds very populist and reasonable…until you consider what is NOT being done.
The standards for developing a ballot measure do not include the same requirements as an environmental impact report (EIR). EIRs require publication of a draft comprehensive report, detailed requirements for accepting and noting public comments and objections, a community hearing, and the right of the public to sue if the objections are not fully addressed.
IOW- a ballot measure funded with private dollars more often than not means bypassing some important elements. It allows a very brief or even incomplete environmental impact analysis, and no legal recourse following the vote.
This is another reason I am generally opposed to policy making at the ballot box. That- and concerns over imported tribes of non-resident, non-accountable, cash-paid signature gatherers who are often coached in ways to deceive people into signing to qualify the measures. But that’s a whole other thing…
Brian Brady says
“Brian- Perhaps you are thinking of the Council vote to approve the ballot measure? ”
I really don’t know, Lori. I thought the 80/20 plan was approved by the Carlsbad voters years ago but, I really don’t know.
“This is another reason I am generally opposed to policy making at the ballot box.”
Me too. The emotions involved overpower legal land use decisions. As much as I think the regulatory agencies beat up on property owners, there is a more predictable path to development, prior to purchasing the property, through the agencies rather than the ballot box.
Even the regulatory agencies shouldn’t make the final decision as they are unelected people; the City Council should.
If The Council members make poor votes, the ballot box serves a useful purpose.
Gosh, I have no idea how to understand the Chargers latest proposal now
bob dorn says
Sometimes I think there are a ton of Backlash People, especially angered by the environmentally conscious, athletically inclined, less-is-more ethics gaining ground in the USA. I’d bet on it; if Pew Polling or Gallup were to ask people who favor a UTC-styled mall and a dock onto the lagoon where speed boats could be rented by the hour this question — Who do you want to see elected president of the USA? — the majority would answer… “Donald Trump. Now pass those french fried donuts.”
Wow! A wealthy business person donating to political campaigns to benefit his interests. I have never heard of such a thing. I wonder if Westfield LLC ever uses political donations to its advantage?
NO doubt Westfield plays the same game. No one would deny that. However, back in August BEFORE Westfield ever offered any support, financial or otherwise, volunteers walked the streets to get the signatures so we could have the vote we were promised. So, your point is??? We were accused of taking money from Westfield, which was a lie.
My point is twofold: 1) It should not be surprising that a developer donates money to politicians that he believes would benefit him. This (unfortunately) is how American politics and big business work. It is neither illegal nor newsworthy, and it is no different than the CA teachers union donating to the Democratic party to benefit them. 2) The major funders in this fight are Caruso Affiliated and Westfield LLC (and I know that Westfield is has only donated $75k). The fact that there were people against this before Westfield got involved is irrelevant. Westfield didn’t donate money because it is interested in the citizens of Carlsbad; it is interested in defeating its competition. There are actual Carlsbad citizens on both sides, but the “major funding” for each side comes from the big businesses that the author appears to disparage.
bob dorn says
Look, the California teachers don’t make bazillions of dollars and can’t make donations in the amount your just-plain-folks like Caruso make, so you’re talking bicycles versus airplanes. Which get you to Paradise faster?
And… explain what you mean when you say “‘major funding’ comes for each side from the big businesses…” You mean Westfield, which gave $75,000 to help expose Caruso’s bribery of public officials? Have you thought of quoting Donald Trump, or Doug Manchester?
1) The California Teachers Union is the one donating, and they have plenty of money. In fact, they make their money of the backs of the teachers. My point still stands; they donate because they believe it benefits them to have certain people or parties in control. Is this not the criticism raised in thr article? 2) The explanation for the major funding is simple. Go to the Citizens for North County website; it clearly states “with major funding from Westfield LLC.” The professionally made “No” signs do also.
bob dorn says
After all Caruso has spent selling his commercial paradise through sophisticated commercials that air throughout the county, and buying Carlsbad City sellouts, he’ll still have enough to build his consumption Taj on the lagoon. Who’s got that kind of money, Darren? You?
Carol Law says
C’bad officialdom is heavily under the influence of whatever conservative bent wants to influence them, from the LDS to the Republican Party. Though not too much “influenced” by progressives with environmental concerns and the like.
Michael Rohde says
I only hope this bankster can be stopped at the ballot box by an informed electorate. I would guess that a clear majority of Carlsbad residents are against the project, yet these feelings are routinely defeated at the ballot box by Republicans. Let’s hope Carlsbad residents respond with an intelligent defeat of Mr Caruso and his ilk from L.A. Just go for a ride in rush hour in L.A. and that should make your choice easy. Developers ruined quality of life in L.A. after WWII by over building and even harmed our air this far south with all the cars they put on the road with their unregulated development. Stand up to this carpet bagger.
Can’t wait to visit such a beautiful area after it’s done.
Fortunately, you will be able to visit it. This libelous campaign against Caruso appears to have failed. (They need at least a 62 percent “No” vote among the remaining votes to win). More importantly, it appears the environmental leftists have not taken over our fine city. Well, its almost time to celebrate!
bob dorn says
Y’all should take a walk on the beach and
feel the difference between it, and a mall.
Don’t count your malls before they’re built…you might wind up eating crow (or seagull).
You might want to check out sdvote.com AFTER the votes are all counted. You just dropped the football before crossing the goal line.