The San Diego mayoral race took an unusual side trip Thursday, into the issue of Congressional junkets funded by "special interests".
Councilman Carl DeMaio called out subsidized travel by his opponent, Congressman Bob Filner.
"I don't even accept a cup of coffee,” DeMaio told reporters at a news conference outside his campaign headquarters in Murphy Canyon. “I pay my own way. There's never been any free travel … Congressman Bob Filner, unfortunately, fails to lead by example. He's accepted over $38,000 in free travel junkets from special interests."
DeMaio provided a list of 14 Filner trips spanning 12 years, financed by a variety of organizations that Filner says are non-profits with the exception of Oprah Winfrey's production company.
Earlier, the DeMaio campaign had told NBC 7's assignment desk that the news conference would focus on two Filner trips to Paris, quote, "paid for by a terrorist-linked organization."
That turned out to be not quite the case -- and the terrorism angle, not exactly what one might imagine.
This is how DeMaio, indirectly, seemed to refer to it: "Now we've seen a pattern of behavior here, where after these trips paid for by special interests, the Congressman has done special favors, and carried legislation, and intervened on important matters … it certainly raises a very bad appearance of influence by these special interest groups. And we want to have elected officials free of even the appearance of special interest influence."
Two trips to Paris, together costing over $15,000, were on the list as having been funded by the Colorado Iranian-American Committee, linked to an organization that was on the State Department's roster of "Foreign Terrorist Organizations" until last month.
Its removal came after years of lobbying by both Republican and Democratic political figures, including Filner, who cited its pro-democracy insurgency against Iran's ruling regime.
Filner, in an interview downtown after DeMaio’s event, said he spoke in Paris at human rights conferences.
“Joining me at these conferences by the way,” Filner continued, “were such ‘radical leaders’ as the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, the mayor during 9/11 … the first secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, who I worked with in Congress actually. The attorney general for George W. Bush, Michael Mukasey. The chief of staff for President Bush, Andrew Card."
While DeMaio is calling for governmental bans on officials taking trips subsized by outside interest, Filner brushed that aside, saying he’d continue the practice if elected mayor.
"I plead guilty to trying to understand the world, trying to make sure that we have relationships with other countries," Filner added. “Corporations, I will not take money from for trips. I will take money for trips from those who are trying to increase our understanding of the world and allowing us to represent San Diego and improve our economy."
As for a 2011 trip to Chicago for which Harpo Productions – Oprah Winfrey’s company – paid $1,427, the Filner said he appeared on her show for the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, in which he took part during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s.