Filner will pay group back for Paris trip
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner said Wednesday that he will pay out of his own pocket the nearly $10,000 it cost for his trip to France last month.
Filner’s announcement came one day after U-T Watchdog reported that the IRS had no record of the organization Filner said paid his tab of being a U.S. tax-exempt nonprofit.
Filner said his $9,839 in travel costs to Paris were covered by the Organization of Iranian-American Communities, a group Filner initially claimed was a charity organized under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).
“I have become aware that the OIAC’s representations regarding its non-profit status were inaccurate,” Filner said in a news release late Wednesday. “For this reason, I will reimburse OIAC for all amounts it paid for my travel and expenses in its international conference in Paris, France, above the $440 gift limit.”
Filner filed a similar statement on a mid-year disclosure of gifts, filed Wednesday on the day it was due.
The tax status is important because, under city and state law, officials such as Filner are prohibited from receiving gifts totaling more than $440 in a calendar year from most sources. Nonprofits are allowed to exceed that limit if facilitating the official’s appearance or speech at an event — such as the Iranian resistance rally Filner participated in.
Filner’s trip to France has been controversial since he returned in late June.
The U-T revealed on July 16 that two top aides to Filner increased their city charge-card limits to $30,000 each in advance of Filner’s trip.
Councilman Kevin Faulconer sent a series of questions to interim Chief Financial Officer Greg Bych in response to that story, in large part because of the cost to the taxpayers for the trip.
Filner later released some details of the trip’s funding, including the cost of his travel covered by the outside group and the cost of his security detail’s travel, covered by taxpayers — $21,244. Filner has said that his fiancee, Bronwyn Ingram, paid her own way. The two have since broken up, and Ingram has not returned messages seeking confirmation that she paid her own way.
Filner’s spokeswoman did not respond to calls for comment seeking more information about Filner repaying the Iranian-American organization.
Faulconer, chairman of the city’s audit committee, said Filner’s actions in reimbursing the group for the trip confirm a suspicion Faulconer had — that the gift was illegal.
“As Chairman of the City’s Audit Committee, I’ve continued to ask questions about Mayor Filner’s junket because the story doesn’t add up,” Faulconer said. “Nothing makes sense about a San Diego Mayor taking this trip to France. I’m going to continue to investigate to determine if other rules meant to protect taxpayers were broken.”
Felipe Monroig, president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, also said Filner’s action was inadequate.
“Mayor Filner has announced that he’ll cover the roughly $9,000 cost of his recent trip to Paris,” Monroig said. “Yet, there remains a much larger cost for his security detail that taxpayers are still on the hook for. Since it’s clear the Mayor’s trip to Paris was little more than a vacation, the Taxpayers Association calls on him to do the right thing and reimburse the full cost, which was upwards of $30,000.”
Filner has previously accepted travel from groups that are part of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. He went to Paris in June 2011 as a member of Congress. He also took a similar trip in June 2007, federal records show.
His 2011 trip cost $6,589 and was paid for by Colorado’s Iranian American Community, a group tied to the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq or MEK, the militant — and largest — arm of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
The 2007 trip to France, also paid for by Colorado’s Iranian American Community, cost $7,949. The plane ticket in that case was business class.
Filner is not alone in accepting travel from the Iranian groups. Others who have gone include former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island.
In large part, the trips were part of a lobbying campaign to remove the MEK from the U.S. State Department’s foreign terrorist organizations list. In a speech to the group, Filner compared their plight to the U.S. civil rights movement.
“This will happen,” Filner said in a speech to the group in 2011. “This will happen. The laws, the facts, are on our side.”
The de-listing effort succeeded last year.
Trent Seibert, U-T San Diago