Todd Gloria accused electric scooter critic Barbara Bry of "politicizing someone's tragedy."
Todd Gloria has 30 days after being served to respond to allegations. Photo by Chris Stone

A lawsuit filed Monday has ramped up pressure on Todd Gloria to justify why he has an “Assembly 2020” re-election committee raising and spending money.

Mat Wahlstrom of Hillcrest sued Gloria and the San Diego County Democratic Party in an effort to prevent Gloria from using his Assembly 2020 committee funds to boost his San Diego mayoral campaign.

Mat Wahlstrom says lawsuit was filed Monday afternoon.
Mat Wahlstrom says lawsuit was filed Monday afternoon in downtown Superior Court. (PDF)

According to the complaint, Gloria and at least one member of the party’s “executive committee” agreed “that if Gloria transfers money from his Assembly 2020 campaign to SDCDP, SDCDP will use the money to support Gloria’s campaign for the office of Mayor of the City of San Diego in 2020.”

Wahlstrom, 53, directed queries to his lawyer, David Kenney of Pico Rivera, but told Times of San Diego the lawsuit “was delivered to the court this afternoon. I understand it takes a day or two to be processed.”

“These are just more baseless allegations,” said Nick Serrano, Gloria’s campaign manager and spokesman.

Late Monday night, the county Democratic Party chairman labeled the lawsuit “clearly a conveniently timed, ill-fated attempt to undermine the San Diego County Democratic Party as we enter the endorsement process.”

In a statement, Chairman Will Rodriguez-Kennedy added: “The allegations made against our party are simply false and appear to be 11th hour mudslinging in a political conflict in which our party has not yet taken a position.

“Our party engages voters and elects Democrats to advance equality, opportunity, sustainability and prosperity for all. We will vigorously defend our constitutionally protected, First Amendment right to advance the principles and policies of the 653,493 Democrats that we have been elected to represent.”

The San Diego Superior Court suit came a day before the party’s Central Committee votes on whether to endorse Gloria, Councilwoman Barbara Bry or community advocate Tasha Williamson for mayor — giving them access to party funds.

(On Tuesday, Bry campaign manager Mat Kostrinsky said: “We weren’t aware of this lawsuit, and have no comment on its potential impact.”)

Kenney said Wahlstrom filed suit now to maintain the status quo while City Attorney Mara Elliott and District Attorney Summer Stephan decide whether they will act on what he called Gloria’s apparent illegal activity.

The attorney explained why he didn’t wait the 120 days the Political Reform Act gives Elliott and Stephan to respond.

“(Wahlstrom) had to ask the court for an injunction now because like a horse that escapes from a barn, the $300,000 of illegally collected funds in the hands of Gloria’s admittedly fraudulent 2020 Assembly election committee would be impossible to return in the manner required by law if they were allowed to be spent while we wait for the separate 120-day clock to run,” Kenney said via email.

“We fully intend to file a subsequent lawsuit to obtain the different remedies available under the Political Reform Act if the city attorney and district attorney fail to timely and properly act.”

Kenney last week wrote Elliott and Stephan, calling on them to “civilly prosecute” Gloria for alleged violations of the Political Reform Act. He wrote the FBI too.

“The public will be irreparably harmed if defendants are allowed to use the [Assembly 2020 committee] money illegally raised by Gloria to support him, directly or indirectly, in the race…. Money damages would be an inadequate remedy,” said the suit asking for declaratory and injunctive relief.

The 10-page suit calls on the court to bar Gloria’s campaign and the local Democratic Party from using any money from the Assembly 2020 committee “directly or indirectly to support his campaign for the office of Mayor of the City of San Diego in 2020.”

Gloria says he set up the Assembly 2020 committee as part of his Assembly majority whip role of financially helping Democrats locally, statewide and even nationally. But his campaign conceded that due to an “administrative oversight” it didn’t file a Form 501 “candidate intention statement” before setting up the committee as required by law.

But Kenney’s suit argues that funding other candidates or office-holders is prohibited by state Fair Political Practices Commission rules.

He wrote that FPPC Section 18525(b) states: “This section shall not be construed to permit an incumbent elected officer to make expenditures from any campaign bank account for expenses other than those associated with his or her election to the specific office for which the account was established and expenses associated with holding that office.”

Further, Kenney says money raised by his Assembly 2020 committee may only be used for a governmental or legislative purpose associated with Gloria’s current term of office.

“However, Gloria has used that money mostly, if not exclusively, for illegal political purposes, and he intends to continue to use that money for such illegal purposes,” the suit says. “The expenditure of any portion of that money to SDCDP for direct or indirect use to support Gloria and/or oppose any of his opponents would constitute an illegal political purpose.”

The suit is a “verified complaint” — meaning that plaintiff Wahlstrom has sworn under penalty of perjury that the allegations are true.

Gloria will have 30 days (after being formally served) to file a detailed response, also under oath.

Political scientist Carl Luna, a longtime observer of San Diego politics, said Tuesday that the case itself probably doesn’t reflect much, what he called “Gloria’s shell game moving the money between committees.”

The San Diego Mesa College professor said Gloria’s committee spending looks to pretty much comply with FPPC rules and is “pretty standard” for politicians moving between offices — especially those who are their own power base with money they can contribute to other party candidates.

“Even if there is an infraction — missing a filing date by a few days, etc. — the usual for this is a minor fine at most,” Luna said. “Building a case of systematic political corruption out of this may not be mountains out of molehills but is at least like trying to surf a puddle.”

He added: “What the case does represent is the shifting of San Diego politics away from Red v. Blue to Blue v. Ultra Blue — Democratic [intraparty] conflict is becoming the new normal.”

Tuesday’s meeting of the party Central Committee is set for 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at IBEW Union Local 569, 4545 Viewridge Ave. in Kearny Mesa.

Updated at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 20, 2019