Mat Wahlstrom of Hillcrest (inset) says the Fair Political Practices Commision should have fined Assemblyman Todd Gloria (shown in 2018) much more than $200 for filing a form late. Photos by Ken Stone and Alexander Nguyen

A Hillcrest man says the state’s campaign watchdog was toothless last year when it fined Assemblyman Todd Gloria $200 for submitting a form late. So he’s suing the agency over the “paltry” penalty — and hoping to keep another lawsuit alive.

Mat Wahlstrom wants a Superior Court judge to order the Fair Political Practices Commission to set aside its order against Gloria or declare it void. No hearing date has been set.

But another judge will consider a related case next week.

Mat Wahlstrom lawsuit against Fair Political Practices Commission. (PDF)

On Sept. 18, Judge Ronald F. Frazier will hold a hearing (likely via telephone) on Gloria’s request to kill a revised legal complaint. Wahlstrom alleges that Gloria used an “Assembly 2020” fundraising committee to fatten another for San Diego mayor — and committed perjury by signing one form.

(In late August 2019, Frazier rejected Wahlstrom’s bid for a temporary restraining order against Gloria’s use of his “Assembly 2020” re-election funds for the mayor’s race.)

In a response to the Gloria demurrer request, Wahlstrom lawyer David Kenney wrote: “This argument is akin to an assertion the Oklahoma City Courthouse bombing prosecution should have been stopped by the issuance of a parking ticket based on where Timothy McVeigh parked his explosive-laden Ryder truck. Preposterous!”

Wahlstrom contends that Gloria’s violation was much more significant than a late filing caused by an “inadvertent” oversight.

His suit says Gloria committed perjury on his Form 501 candidate intention statement for his Gloria for Assembly 2020 fundraising committee because he never intended to run for that office and wasn’t allowed to receive donations.

Wahlstrom labels the Assembly 2020 committee “a sham and fraud.” He says Gloria can collect donations and “launder them” for the benefit of his mayoral campaign.

Judge Eddie C. Sturgeon is handling the FPPC suit, filed by attorney Kenney of Los Angeles.

Gloria’s lawyers argue that since the FPPC has resolved all allegations in the case, it should be dismissed. But if the FPPC is forced to rethink the penalty, Gloria could be on the hook for much higher fines — at least $3,400, Wahlstrom contends in his suit.

Wahlstom’s allegations were explicitly considered by the FPPC and resolved in a November 2019 administrative order, Gloria’s lawyers say.

“Thus Plaintiff is statutorily precluded from pursuing his complaint in this lawsuit,” their filing says.

But the FPPC suit also seeks to bar one of Gloria’s attorneys from defending him.

Wahlstrom wants Stephen Kaufman removed from both cases, in fact.

In an Aug. 31 legal filing, he alleges that the Los Angeles-based attorney broke a state law aimed at keeping former office-holders, state officials and consultants from lobbying for laws or administrative action within a year of leaving their state roles.

His suit alleges that at the same time Kaufman was wrapping up work as chairman of the FPPC Enforcement Review Task Force, he was representing the 78th District Assembly member — and shepherding Gloria through a “streamlined enforcement program” the attorney helped craft.

Kaufman says he wasn’t a consultant to the FPPC when he served on the short-lived task force and thus didn’t fall under the Milton Marks Postgovernment Employment Restrictions Act of 1990.

“The allegations contained in Mr. Wahlstrom’s latest frivolous lawsuit are patently absurd,” Kaufman said Wednesday via email. “I was asked to serve – without compensation – on this task force along with 31 other members of the community from May 2018 until August of 2019, when the task force was disbanded.”

Kaufman says the task force was purely advisory and had no decision-making authority.

“The FPPC adopted its streamlined enforcement regulations in January of 2019 – months before the Gloria matter even arose,” said Kaufman, who was paid $59,000 out of Gloria’s Assembly 2020 committee and $2,500 out of his mayoral campaign committee.

But Wahlstrom said this week that the FPPC was relying on Kaufman as the lead adviser or consultant on the review task force on the very subject matter that got Gloria a “slap on the wrist.”

“Any reasonable lawyer or quasi-judicial officer should not have taken on Mr. Gloria’s representation, and is prohibited from doing so under Milton Marks,” he said. “I am confident the judge will agree with me.”

According to federal court records, the FPPC has been sued only nine times in the past 30 years. The 46-year-old agency has never been sued in San Diego Superior Court. The FPPC declined to comment on the Wahlstrom suit.

Why did it take more than a year to flag the Kaufman issue?

Wahlstrom says he didn’t discover the alleged conflict of interest until early February — after Gloria filed his campaign financials for the six months ending Dec. 31.

(He says he wanted to see if Gloria had followed his lawyer’s promise at the August 2019 hearing not to spend any of the Assembly 2020 funds, “as well as if he followed the direction in the FPPC’s recorded meeting on 11/21 barring him from using more than 10% toward his mayoral campaign.”)

Todd Gloria and Mat Wahlstrom legal filings ahead of motion hearing Sept. 18. (PDF)

But after watching video of an FPPC meeting, Wahlstrom says he learned Gloria’s lawyer Kaufman was chair of the Enforcement Review Task Force and recommended expansion of the streamline program and “support a legislative change to limit private rights of actions for violations of the Political Reform Act.”

“Both [were] integral to my complaint against Gloria,” he said. “The remaining delay for pursuing action has been due to COVID-19.”

Nick Serrano, Gloria’s campaign manager, again denied Wahlstom accusations that Gloria used “Assembly 2020” recipient committee money for his mayoral campaign.

“He has not,” Serrano said Thursday.

Can he assure the public that none of the $10,000 the Assembly 2020 committee gave the San Diego County Democratic Party went to support the Gloria mayoral campaign (another Wahlstrom accusation)?

“It did not,” Serrano said via email. “Todd has purchased a table at the party’s annual gala at the $5,000 level in previous years and did so again this year.”

His take on the legal action against the FPPC?

“Mr. Wahlstrom’s latest lawsuit is nothing more than a political attack meant to influence an election,” Serrano said.

Said Wahlstrom: “These lawsuits are not meant to influence the election. They are meant to hold public officials accountable for their misdeeds.”