inewsource launches San Diego campaign finance database

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San Diego’s seal is shown at the downtown City Administration Building, May 8, 2018. (Megan Wood/inewsource)

Jill Castellano | inewsource

inewsource is an independent and nonprofit journalism organization in San Diego, and relies on grants and philanthropists to support its investigative content. Click here to learn more.

This election season, you can follow the money behind the highly debated San Diego ballot measures and closely watched City Council races using inewsource’s newest tool.

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On Tuesday, inewsource launched a searchable database that allows people to explore the fundraising and spending in city elections since 2007. The results are updated automatically every night using financial reports filed electronically with the City Clerk’s Office.

You can search for San Diego politicians, ballot measures and political action committees and look through their donations, loans, debts and spending. You can also search for donors by their names, employers and occupations. inewsource has a similar tool to explore county campaign finance data.

The database includes the finances of groups involved in two November ballot measures to transform the land sitting under the former Qualcomm Stadium. One of them, a committee called Friends of SDSU, is supporting an initiative to turn the Mission Valley site into a western campus for San Diego State University.

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inewsource’s database shows the biggest donors to Friends of SDSU include former San Diego City Manager Jack McGrory and real estate executive Leon Parma. They each gave more than $100,000. (You can search for other donations and spending by typing “Friends of SDSU” into the database’s Candidate/Committee search field.)

The competing stadium ballot measure — known as the SoccerCity initiative — would turn the land into a professional soccer stadium and housing and retail development. It’s backed by a committee called GOAL: San Diegans for the River Park School Funding Soccer and a Tax-Free Stadium, which you can also find in the database. The committee’s biggest donors include FS Investors managing member Michael Stone, who has given more than $1.6 million, and company partner Nick Stone — no relation to Michael — who has given more than $1 million.

Click here to search the inewsource San Diego campaign finance database.

Beyond ballot measures, candidates who have run for City Council and mayor since 2007 appear in the database, including the eight people competing for City Council seats this November.

Councilwoman Myrtle Cole unexpectedly finished six votes behind challenger Monica Montgomery in the June primary. But Cole has the financial backing of well-known San Diegans, including developer Thomas Sudberry, a supporter of the SDSU West ballot measure.

Related: How to use inewsource’s city and county campaign finance database

inewsource’s database will continue to update with the names and details of donors to these candidates as the fall election approaches.

Other organizations, known as political action committees, provide financial reports to the city if they’re supporting candidates or causes in San Diego. They sometimes represent nonprofits or labor unions, such as the San Diego Port Tenants PAC.

Here are some other interesting details from our database:

  • The pro-SoccerCity campaign spent almost $500,000 on a TV ad on April 20.
  • The group “Yes! For A Better San Diego” spent $974,000 collecting signatures for a ballot measure that would have raised the city’s hotel tax to pay for a convention center expansion, services for the homeless and street repairs. The group failed to get enough signatures, and the City Council rejected using its powers to put the measure on the November ballot.
  • The San Diego Police Officers Association gave $10,000 to the San Diegans Against Crime PAC on May 29. The PAC supported Summer Stephan and opposed Geneviéve Jones-Wright for county district attorney. Stephan won.
  • Two of the City Council incumbents up for re-election this year — Republicans Chris Cate and Lorie Zapf — are getting financial support from PACs funded primarily by the local Lincoln Club and chamber of commerce. The PACs have raised more than $300,000 for each candidate.
  • A 2004 candidate for City Council, Phil Thalheimer, still owes himself more than $1 million in loans he took out during the campaign.

Campaigns that have raised less than $10,000 do not have to electronically file their financial reports — they can submit paper copies — so they don’t appear in our data. For more details on what’s included in the database, click here.

Editor’s note:

Help inewsource make this app better. This campaign finance database is a work-in-progress, and we’re counting on you — the users — to tell us what you like, what you don’t like, what’s broken and what you’d like to see added. You can share your thoughts and suggestions with us at data@inewsource.org.

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