Assemblyman Todd Gloria expresses gratitude for mayor endorsement shortly after results were announced Aug. 20 at the San Diego County Democratic Party Central Committee meeting. Photo by Ken Stone

A Hillcrest man will ask a San Diego judge Thursday to immediately block Assemblyman Todd Gloria from using cash in his “Assembly 2020” re-election fund for his San Diego mayor race.

Superior Court Judge Ronald F. Frazier is set to hear arguments for a temporary restraining order aimed at Gloria and the San Diego County Democratic Party.

“Gloria has illegally amassed a sizable amount of money that he intends to funnel into his race for mayor,” said Pico Rivera attorney David E. Kenney in legal documents filed Wednesday. “He dearly wants to buy the election.”

Documents seeking temporary restraining order against Todd Gloria. (PDF)

Kenney, representing plaintiff Mat Wahlstrom, said a court order is the only way to prevent an “abuse of the electoral process.”

Without such an injunction, he said, state-office incumbents will have an “insurmountable advantage” over rivals in local elections that impose donor restrictions.

“Unless the court prevents Gloria from using money raised by his Assembly 2020 committee without the legally required Form 501 under penalty of perjury, and in excess of the applicable donor and size restrictions in the Campaign Ordinance, the rules on the books might as well not exist,” Kenney wrote.

According to court records, Gloria is represented by Stephen J. Kaufman of Los Angeles. The local Democrats are represented by Richard Rios, a Sacramento attorney.

Kaufman and Rios didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither has a Gloria spokesman.

But at 5:40 p.m. Wednesday, county party chair Will Rodriguez-Kennedy filed statements disputing earlier allegations by Wahlstrom.

Will Rodriguez-Kennedy declaration and Democratic Party opposition to Wahlstrom request. (PDF)

He explained that a $5,000 donation from Gloria was at his (Rodriguez-Kennedy) request — and not as a “down payment” on his party endorsement as Wahlstrom has said.

“I have only had one conversation with a member of Mr. Gloria’s staff in May of this year, in which I asked for a contribution for our annual Roosevelt Dinner,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said. “I asked many local elected officials to support the dinner, and Mr. Gloria’s contribution of $5,000 was an amount similar to my request from numerous officials.”

Rodriguez-Kennedy said he never spoke to Gloria or any staff members about donating funds from his Assembly 2020 committee or using such money to back his mayoral campaign.

“I have talked to all the members of our executive board, who are responsible for the operational aspects of the county Democratic Party, and they are likewise unaware of any discussions” on those topics, he said under penalty of perjury.

He said the party’s endorsement process isn’t done and its budget doesn’t include plans for candidate donations.

“At this time, we have not been asked to financially support Mr. Gloria’s race for mayor and we have no current plans to do so,” he wrote.

Accompanying the Rodriguez-Kennedy declaration was a filing from Deborah B. Caplan, an attorney for the local Democratic Party.

“The complaint filed in this case hashes together a series of ad hominem attacks, misplaced self-righteousness and a misunderstanding of the law,” Caplan wrote Wednesday.

“The application for a temporary restraining order simply repeats the same allegations and fails to meet either the procedural or substantive requirements necessary for immediate injunctive relief.”

She said Wahlstrom’s assertion that a person can’t have committees open for two different offices is not supported by law.

“In fact, this happens routinely as many persons consider running for more than one office and often do not decide until they are required to file their declaration of candidacy (at a time much closer to the election),” she said.

Gloria says his Assembly 2020 committee is meant to help finance Democratic candidates locally, statewide and nationally. He said it was part of his role as Assembly majority whip.

But in addition to arguments made in earlier letters to the San Diego city attorney and county district attorney — as well as a civil suit — Kenney worries about Gloria’s mayoral war chest growing

“As of last month when he filed his disclosures, [Gloria] had nearly $250,000 that he would ostensibly be free to spend on his campaign for mayor,” Kenney says. “Because fundraising is done in secret until reports are filed months later, Gloria could easily have raised tens if not hundreds of thousands more for this purpose.”

But Kenney contends that Gloria could have transferred money legally to the San Diego Democratic Party had he funneled the balance of his Assembly 2018 funds by March 31.

“However, doing so before SDCDP voted to endorse Gloria would have meant he had no money to dangle over the party’s head in exchange for the endorsement (which he received just last week),” Kenney wrote.

It wasn’t clear whether Gloria or Rodriguez-Kennedy would be in court Thursday. The so-called ex-parte hearing is set for 8:30 a.m. in Department 65 of the downtown Hall of Justice.

Kaufman, Gloria’s lawyer, calls himself “a recognized authority in the field of campaign finance and election law.”

His profile says he was a recount attorney for the Gore-Lieberman campaign in Florida following the 2000 presidential election.

“And in 2001, he was appointed chief counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Democratic Caucus Special Committee on Election Reform,” the profile adds. “He currently serves as chair of the State Voting Modernization Board, and previously served on the City of Los Angeles Municipal Elections Reform Commission.”

Rios, representing the local Democratic Party, was president of the California Political Attorneys Association in 2016.

His online profile says he is a member of the group’s Legislation and Regulatory Committee, “which comments on and assists in drafting proposed statutory and regulatory changes to the California Political Reform Act.”

In the officially nopartisan San Diego mayor race, Gloria is running against fellow Democrats Barbara Bry and Tasha Williamson. Others who have filed for the March 3, 2020, primary are Gita Applebaum, Bonnie Eisner, J’Erek Evans, Cedrik Greene, Richard Hansen, Beatrice Marion, Rich Riel and Daniel Smiechowski.

Updated at 9:15 p.m. Aug. 28, 2019

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