Five political action groups raise, spend thousands to influence Encinitas races

(Charlie Neuman)

PAC favoring the challengers gained much of its money from people who don’t live in Encinitas 


Two Political Action Committees that are advocating the re-election of the incumbent mayor and two council members are getting most of their funding from just a handful of city residents, including a Facebook executive who contributed $51,000.

Meanwhile, a PAC that is urging city residents to vote against the three incumbents and in favor of their three challengers has gained a large part of its funding from people and groups that aren’t based in Encinitas, financial forms on file with the City Clerk indicate.

Political Action Committees operate independently of candidates’ own campaigns. By law, they cannot coordinate their activities with a given candidate’s campaign efforts and they operate under a different set of government rules. Encinitas has a $250 limit on individual donations to council candidate campaigns, but PACs are not bound by these limits, the federal court has ruled.

There are five PACs active in Encinitas this election cycle, city elections paperwork shows. Three of them support incumbents Mayor Catherine Blakespear and council members Tony Kranz and Kellie Hinze. Two support their challengers — mayoral candidate Julie Thunder and council candidates Alex Riley and Susan Turney.

The highest-funded of the five is North County Action Network. That group was created several years ago by Michael Verdu, a Facebook vice president who lives in Cardiff. From the start of the year through Oct. 17, Verdu has donated $51,000 to his network group and his wife has contributed $10,000, financial forms filed Thursday, Oct. 22, with the city indicate. The Verdus have spent their money on direct mailings and Facebook advertising supporting the candidacies of Blakespear, Kranze and Hinze, and opposing Thunder and Turney.

A second group that supports the three incumbents — Conserve North County — raised $46,742 and spent $33,549 between Jan. 1 and Oct. 17, its newly filed forms indicate. Major donations to that group include $9,000 from John Kratzer’s Encinitas Beach Hotel company and $9,500 from Michael Cohen Perez’ Ladera Quality Meats company, as well as a $12,000 loan from Encinitas attorney Marco Gonzalez.

The third group that backs the three incumbents is the Encinitas Firefighters Association. It has collected $1,389 in contributions from its members so far this year, the association’s newest financial forms indicate.

While the Encinitas firefighters’ group supports the incumbents, the regional Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of San Diego County is spending money to elect the challengers. Its recent expenses related to Encinitas races include nearly $2,000 for signs and social media expenses, its forms state.

The second group that’s advocating against the incumbents’ election campaigns is Ethics & Transparency in Government. Two Encinitas residents who oppose the Leucadia Streetscape project — Lea Bissonette and Robert Hemphill — are major donors to that group. Bissonette gave $7,200 and Hemphill gave $2,800. Other major donors hail from outside of town. The La Mesa-based Citizens for a Better East County contributed $10,000, La Mesa resident Frank Riolo gave $5,000, Solana Beach resident and former state senator Mark Wyland gave $5,000 and the San Diego-based San Diego County Gun Owners group gave $2,500, recent financial paperwork indicates.

In addition to all that PAC activity, individual candidate campaigns are raising and spending money in Encinitas.

Blakespear, an attorney who was first elected mayor four years ago, reported raising $92,824 and spending $42,049 so far this year, according to forms filed Thursday, Oct. 22. Fellow mayoral candidate Thunder, a community advocate/publisher, raised $66,971 and spent $31,526 during the same period.

In the council District 1 race, Kranz — a printing production manager who has served on the council since 2012 — has collected $13,074 and spent $4,813, while his challenger Riley — a retired San Diego lifeguard who works in the outdoor media industry — has collected $10,350 and spent $5,297, their latest forms show. District 1 covers northern Leucadia and parts of New Encinitas.

In District 2 race, Hinze — a former executive director of Leucadia 101 Main Street Association who was appointed to the council in January 2012 — has raised $47,294 and spent $39,083 so far this year, while her challenger Turney — a business development consultant — has raised $20,613 and reported spending slightly more than that. District 2 is centered on the city’s downtown region.

Campaign financial documents and other elections-related paperwork can be found on the City Clerk’s elections web page:

— Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune