Joe Leventhal declared his candidacy for San Diego City Council on Facebook, November 13, 2018, to replace the soon-to-be termed out Mark Kersey.
Well… sort of. Here is what he said:
Today, I’m excited to confirm that I will be a candidate for San Diego City Council, District 5, in 2020, and will begin my campaign when I’m legally permitted to in September 2019.
“In the two months since resigning from the Ethics Commission to consider running, I’ve spoken one-on-one with approximately 150 civic leaders, business leaders, and leaders of my party’s Central Committee, virtually all of whom have offered their support and encouraged my run. On average, 1 person every 4 days offers unsolicited to hold a fundraiser or serve on my Finance Committee. The support and encouragement is humbling.
“More than ever, we need elected officials who want to serve, not those looking for their next job. And with serious challenges facing our region, we need leaders capable of making the tough decisions and willing to face the heat. I would enjoy hearing your thoughts along this journey and hope that I can count on your support!”
Leventhal was a member of the City of San Diego’s Ethics Commission until he resigned in September of 2018. The Ethics Commission has a 12-month “cooling-off period” that prohibits former commissioners to run for City office. Thus, were he to run for City Council, he could not do it until October of this year.
What exactly is the definition of a “candidate”? The Ethics Commission states that a candidate is a candidate only when they raise $2,000, spend $2,000 or declare for office. In other words, Leventhal can shake hands, ask for votes, solicit endorsements, and solicit volunteers. As long as he doesn’t use the words “I am running for office,” he’s in the clear.
Ask yourself this question; did Leventhal say he was running for office last November, or not?
Leventhal has not raised nor spent $2,000 because he has no campaign committee. He has however, represented that he has secured the consulting services of Axiom Strategies and Golden State Consultants. If Leventhal is not paying their retainers, their professional services must be reported as an in-kind contribution at fair market value. That would put him over the $2,000 contribution limit and $2,000 spending limit.
This month, Leventhal sent out two professionally-prepared endorsement announcements from a County Supervisor and a retired police chief. How can you endorse a candidate who is not permitted to say he is a candidate? (but has, maybe…)
Naturally, I think these rules are stupid but the rules are the rules. I imagine Leventhal will rely on the title “Former Ethics Commissioner” for his ballot designation, and I imagine that the reasoning behind the cooling off period is to prevent Ethics Commissioners to leverage their title in an election.
I am no lawyer and Leventhal is, so I’m pretty sure he has found a way to LEGALLY avoid a violation of the rules established by the Ethics Commission. But “ethical” and legal are not synonymous words. With Leventhal, we have a former Ethics Commissioner who has publicly stated he is running for City Council, solicited endorsements, and has represented that he has received professional services at no cost to him or his campaign.
You decide if the Ethics Commissioner is being ethical.
# # #
DISCLOSURE: The author is a donor to the campaign of Patrick Batten for City Council, Leventhal’s Republican opponent.