Lawsuit plaintiff Mat Wahlstrom, a force behind Rescue Hillcrest, says he's long been a critic of Todd Gloria's political policies.
Lawsuit plaintiff Mat Wahlstrom, a force behind the Rescue Hillcrest group, says he’s long been a critic of Todd Gloria’s political policies. Photo by Ken Stone

A San Diego judge refused Thursday to halt Todd Gloria’s “Assembly 2020” campaign spending, prompting the Hillcrest man who filed suit to accuse the Democratic Assembly member of not being a true progressive.

Mat Wahlstrom, the plaintiff and a former Uptown Planners Board member who opposes overdevelopment, said after the hearing that Gloria was getting a pass for supporting Republican issues because he is a member of the gay community.

Letters to and from the FPPC regarding the Todd Gloria "self-referral." (PDF)
Letters to and from the FPPC regarding the Todd Gloria “self-referral.” (PDF)

“I don’t like the idea that he paints himself as a progressive and is using the D next to his name to work with Republicans on Libertarian issues on land use and on housing that are not progressive,” he said outside the Hall of Justice. “These are not just empty labels that you can stamp on anything you’re selling.”

If not for being a member of the LGBT community, Wahlstrom said, Gloria “would be called out” over his political actions.

Last March, two months after Gloria announced his bid for San Diego mayor, Wahlstrom unloaded on his fellow gay.

“To many of us in the LGBTQ community, it’s also worth remembering how Gloria as councilmember used his identity as a gay man to shield himself from criticism for … actions against our community,” Wahlstrom said in a comment posted on OB Rag.

In downtown Superior Court, Judge Ronald Frazier heard none of these critiques.

Instead, he rejected Wahlstrom’s request for a temporary restraining order against Gloria’s use of his “Assembly 2020” re-election funds for the mayor’s race.

But the Hillcrest man’s lawyer claimed victory after the 10-minute ex-parte hearing.

“Today we accomplished Mat’s goal of making sure the money doesn’t get spent before the authorities have determined whether it was lawfully raised in the first place,” said attorney David E. Kenney. “The defense lawyers assured the judge that the money would not be spent any time soon. That is exactly where Mat wanted to be when the dust settled.”

Gloria wasn’t in court. Nor was Will Rodriguez-Kennedy — chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party, a co-defendant in Wahlstrom’s suit.

One of Gloria’s lawyers — Gary S. Winuk — was present, though, arguing against the restraining order.

Deborah B. Caplan, an attorney for the local Democratic Party, phoned into court. She summarized her case against the TRO since Frazier hadn’t read the legal filing — which came in at 5:40 p.m. Wednesday. Winuk’s own filing, also unread, arrived electronically at 6:59 p.m.

From the outset, Judge Frazier posed the key question: “Where is the irreparable injury” from Gloria having money in an Assembly 2020 fund?

Kenney said the cash could be used to give Gloria — whom he repeatedly called “the incumbent” — an unfair advantage over his mayoral rivals.

But after Frazier was told that the state Fair Political Practices Commission could block Gloria from using “Assembly 2020” money for the mayor’s race, the judge opted to let that process play out.

Gloria has reason to expect victory at the FPPC. His lawyer, Winuk, was chief of the election watchdog’s Enforcement Division from 2009 to 2015.

In 40 years, Winuk told the judge, the FPPC has never blocked someone from using funds from a re-election committee despite not filing a Form 501 “candidate intention statement” as law requires.

Moreover, Winuk noted that Gloria filed a complaint — called a “self-referral” — against himself.

Writing the FPPC on Aug. 14 — the day after Gloria filed the Form 501 in the wake of La Prensa inquiries — Gloria attorney Stephen Kaufman said: “We do not believe that the committee’s inadvertent oversight warrants any further action. … The public harm was negligible because the Form 410 Statement of Organization filed by the committee upon its formation contained virtually identical information as is listed on the Form 501.”

Winuk said donations to Gloria’s Assembly 2020 committee “have been small in number and total a relatively small amount.” Besides, he said, the Form 501 was filed well before the March 2020 election.

He also asked the commission to take into account that, upon becoming aware of this issue, “the committee decided to proactively present this matter to you for a speedy resolution of the issue.”

Last Friday, the current chief of the FPPC Enforcement Division wrote Kaufman that the potential violation of Political Reform Act campaign disclosure rules was being investigated.

But Galena West, the chief, said the FPPC has made no determination about the possible violations.

Late filings Wednesday by Todd Gloria lawyer Gary Winuk. (PDF)
Late filings Wednesday by Todd Gloria lawyer Gary Winuk. (PDF)

Even with a Gloria pledge not to use Assembly 2020 money on the mayor race, Wahlstrom is still skeptical.

“I’m tired of people playing patty cake with the law and basically just saying: ‘Oh no, it’s just Todd, it’s OK’ and excusing him,” he said after the brief hearing.

Wahlstrom said leftover money from Gloria’s 2018 committee should have gone to charity or the original donors.

“It wasn’t until he was caught playing these games that he did anything,” he said of Gloria. “He’s sent to Sacramento to make laws. So what does it mean when we just go ahead and say: ‘Oh, that’s OK. He doesn’t need to know what they are and he doesn’t need to follow them when he does’?”

Attorney Kenney isn’t quite done yet, however.

He said he and Wahlstrom would decide in the next day or two on whether to ask the court for a preliminary injunction to formally halt any Gloria mayoral spending from the Assembly 2020 account.

When attorney Kenney next meets the judge, they might have more to talk about.

As he opened the hearing Thursday, a smiling Frazier told Kenney: “I notice you practice on Telegraph Road in Pico Rivera. It’s a stone’s throw away from where I went to high school.”

Updated at 7:10 p.m. Aug. 29, 2019