San Diego reporter’s work called ‘opposition research’

U-T San Diego
A San Diego group that hired an investigative journalist to collect negative information about a mayoral candidate filed a “financial disclosure to settle a joint investigation by the San Diego Ethics Commission and the state Fair Political Practices Commission,” Craig Gustafson reports in U-T San Diego.

Spotlight San Diego paid former San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Caitlin Rother “nearly $23,000″ to produce a dossier on Carl DeMaio that it distributed anonymously to media outlets, Gustafson writes. The investment paid off only modestly, however:

The information dredged up went largely unreported because many in the media considered it old, irrelevant and an untoward attempt to draw attention to DeMaio’s homosexuality during the race. The records focused mainly on legal problems involving his partner — San Diego Gay & Lesbian News Publisher Johnathan Hale.

Gustafson’s article is accompanied by a raft of documents, including a “scope of work” document. Among other expectations, Rother would “explore the embarrassing story about DeMaio’s being caught committing a self-gratifying sexual act in the City Hall restroom,” the document states. She also “is guaranteed that her employer will register and disclose her activities to the public in a manner that is in accordance with local and state campaign law, but without mentioning her by name in any campaign committee disclosure statements,” according to the document.

“I made it clear I would not be associated with anything but a pure information-gathering project, and I was assured that there would be a firewall between what we were doing and any campaign committee, candidate, or campaign operative,” Rother said in a statement. A local businessman, Fred Maas, contributed most of the money to the project, augmented by contributions from San Diego Firefighters Local 145 and the San Diego Municipal Employees Association, according to the document Spotlight San Diego filed.

U-T owner Douglas Manchester strongly supported DeMaio in last year’s mayoral race, which he lost to Bob Filner. Voice of San Diego reporter Liam Dillon reported on connections between the two men last October: “When you’re running for mayor, the strong backing of the region’s largest newspaper has its benefits,” Dillon wrote. “But DeMaio’s relationship with the newspaper and Manchester can hurt beyond the fact that it’s easy ammunition for his opponent.”

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  • Caitlin Rother

    I want to clarify that this was a proposed scope of work, written before it got significantly changed during contract negotiations, when I thought I was signing on to do pure political research. My statement this week comes 18 months later, after the nature of the project changed many times, including an effort to make it legitimate journalism. Ultimately, I said it couldn’t be, given the nature of the funding mechanism, so I refused to publish anything based on my research because I felt it wouldn’t be ethical. If I had written a news story after being paid to do so, then THAT would have been a problem.