Former San Diego City Councilwoman Gloria McColl secretly employed a private investigator to gather politically damaging information on 1989 opponent John Hartley but did not disclose the arrangement on campaign spending reports, according to public documents and former campaign workers.
In addition, McColl’s final campaign spending report makes no mention of more than $15,000 that former campaign manager Marla Marshall claims she is owed for fund-raising activities--a debt that McColl disputes.
In two telephone interviews, McColl repeatedly refused to say whether she had hired a private investigator to delve into Hartley’s background, or discuss payment arrangements. “It’s closed. I’m not going to answer any more questions on the campaign or anything else,” she said.
McColl also said that she owes Marshall nothing, and that Marshall has never submitted a bill to her. However, Marshall produced photocopies of two invoices dated Feb. 8 and March 8 demanding $19,231.52--8% of the $240,394.49 she says was raised for McColl.
Hartley unseated McColl in the Sept. 19, 1989 council primary despite being heavily outspent by the incumbent 3rd district councilwoman.
The allegations against McColl have surfaced amid disclosures that current Councilwoman Linda Bernhardt is the target of a district attorney’s investigation that appears to focus on her campaign finances. The reports have caused some political operatives to privately suggest that campaign finance abuse may be widespread in City Council campaigns.
Bernhardt partisans have complained that she is being singled out for examination unfairly, especially by City Attorney John Witt’s office, which is reviewing whether Bernhardt violated a city law prohibiting a candidate from owing money to vendors for more than 30 days.
They note, for example, that former council candidate Bob Trettin, a leader of the effort to recall Bernhardt from office, still owes money from his unsuccessful 1989 effort to unseat District 1 Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer. Trettin’s debt is not under review by the city attorney’s office.
After her unsuccessful 1988 Assembly race, McColl “unilaterally” wrote off a debt of $15,724 in a dispute with the firm of Huckaby and Rodriguez, Sacramento political consultants, said Gary Huckaby, president of the firm. McColl now lists the debt as “reversed” on her campaign form, a status to which Huckaby and Rodriguez never agreed, Huckaby said.
McColl refused to sign a contract at the start of the campaign, telling the firm that “my word is my bond,” Huckaby said.
“It’s a common trait among losing candidates to deny responsibility for conduct of the campaign, and foist it off on the easiest target, the people who helped them,” Huckaby said.
Huckaby said it would be too expensive to sue McColl for the debt, a sentiment echoed by Marshall.
Failing to disclose a payment to a vendor for campaign activities is a misdemeanor that could subject a political candidate to fines by the Fair Political Practices Commission, according to Ted Bromfield, senior chief deputy city attorney. In addition, signing a false campaign spending report could open a candidate to perjury charges, he said.
Marshall and another source close to the campaign confirmed that McColl hired Bill Papenhausen Investigations to research Hartley’s past and unearth information that later was used in campaign mailers attacking him. The McColl campaign leveled charges that Hartley was cited for illegally selling lobsters from a truck, owned substandard property and had once changed his name.
A third source in the campaign said that he read the investigator’s reports but was not told who gathered the information contained in them.
The issue surfaced during the summer of 1989, when tenants of a Logan Heights apartment house owned by Hartley said they were questioned by two men claiming to be government workers. Later, the apartments were photographed. The Hartley campaign voiced suspicions that the men were agents of McColl’s, but Marshall and McColl campaign consultant Dick Dresner strongly denied the accusations at the time.
After the McColl mailer accused Hartley of “owning and renting out substandard housing,” Marshall told The Tribune that the information was gathered by a paid researcher working for the campaign.
Now, Marshall says that Papenhausen’s firm was gathering the information. “While you’re in a campaign, you don’t disclose who’s working for the campaign,” she said. Marshall agreed to answer a reporter’s questions because she assumed that the arrangement with Papenhausen’s firm had been declared on McColl’s campaign finance reports, she said.
Shortly after the campaign ended, Papenhausen telephoned Marshall, seeking payment of “thousands” of dollars for his work, she said.
“During the campaign, I was involved in approving expenditures. During that period of time, I didn’t see an invoice from them,” Marshall said. After the campaign ended “I remember at least one phone call when (Papenhausen) called and asked about the bill, and I just relayed that to Gloria, and I don’t know what happened from there.”
Papenhausen declined to say whether McColl hired him during the campaign. Principals at Miller Roos & Co., McColl’s campaign treasurer, did not return numerous telephone calls to their office.
Dresner said he was unaware that the campaign had hired a private investigator, and did not pass payments from McColl to him. Campaign coordinator Susan Jester also said that she was unaware that a private investigator was hired.
McColl said that she owes nothing to Marshall--who also served as her top City Hall aide--and has terminated the campaign committee formed to raise money for her unsuccessful reelection bid in 1989. To close down the committee, McColl forgave loans that she had personally made to the campaign.
“As far as I’m concerned, as far as my treasurer is concerned, as far as anyone is concerned, it’s closed,” she said.
McColl said that Marshall “has never presented a bill, as far as I know,” and maintained that she owes her former aide no money.
But Marshall said that she had an oral agreement with McColl and the campaign’s finance committee for the 8% commission of all funds raised. The arrangement was confirmed by Jester, the campaign’s day-to-day coordinator, and an acknowledged friend of Marshall’s.
Marshall claims that McColl sent her a “personal check” for $4,000 after the campaign committee was closed, but still owes her more than $15,000.
According to Marshall, McColl suggested that Marshall attempt to raise the balance of the debt. Marshall now believes that she may have been naive to assume that McColl would pay her because of their longstanding personal relationship.
Three members of McColl’s finance committee--attorneys Paul Peterson and Paul Robinson, and engineer William Rick--said they were unaware of Marshall’s payment agreement with McColl.
But Jester said that she attended meetings at which Peterson and Rick were present during discussions of the payment arrangements for Marshall.