To prevent San Diego officials from leaning on their subordinates to contribute to their election campaigns, the city charter explicitly forbids officials from taking donations from anyone under their charge. Yet, in spite of this sweeping prohibition, City Attorney Mike Aguirre has taken campaign contributions from at least six of his top subordinates, state disclosure documents show.
What's more, five of the employees were given large pay hikes by Aguirre within days of donating to his re-election campaign. In late June, senior Aguirre deputies Don McGrath, Kathryn Burton, Walter Chung, Karen Heumann and Jeff Van Deerlin made contributions totaling $1,290 to Aguirre's 2008 re-election bid. Deputy City Attorney John Serrano made a separate $350 donation on Dec. 30, 2006.
In July, Burton received a whopping raise from $113,152 to $127,279; McGrath received a raise from $175,000 to $182,000; Chung received a raise from $113,152 to $122,387; Heumann received a raise from $132,371 to $143,166. Two weeks after making his contribution at the end of last year, Serrano received a raise from 114,587 to $126,734.
Just a coincidence, right? Of COURSE Aguirre says he did nothing wrong or unethical. But watch how he says it:
“Here's what the law is: Any city employee is free to give. No city official is free to solicit,” Aguirre said. “There is not evidence (of) and there was no solicitation.”
In other words..."nyah, nyah...you don't have any actual PROOF that I solicited these contributions..."
When will politicians (and yes, Mike Aguirre IS a politician despite what he would have you believe) ever get the concept of holding themselves above reproach? Why didn't he simply reject the donations to his campaign if voters might possibly construe the raises as rewards for those donations?
Were the donations legal? Well, there is some doubt on that matter:
Whether Aguirre's actions violate a city charter provision dating to 1931 is unclear. The charter says that no elected official “shall solicit or accept any donations or gratuity in money, or other things of value, either directly or indirectly, from any subordinate or employee . . . .”
The municipal code however is less clear:
An ordinance enacted in 2002 forbids elected officials from soliciting contributions from employees. With a few exceptions, however, it allows employees to make such contributions if they aren't pressured into doing so.
Whether or not Aguirre broke the law might be in question. But what isn't in question is that something stinks here. Unfortunately, we may have to wait until the 2008 elections to do something about it. Why?
Well it turns out that only one office in San Diego has jurisdiction over this particular breach of ethical conduct. You guessed it...The City Attorney's office.
And though Mike Aguirre certainly loves conducting investigations even where he doesn't have jurisdiction (hey, anything that gets him in front of a microphone), somehow I don't think his office will be so thorough in investigating him.