San Diego City Council President Ben Hueso failed to report $6,000 in campaign expenditures, a lawsuit against him alleges. If the court finds against Hueso, he could be liable for more than $18,000 in fines, and he would be barred from running for the state Assembly.
The lawsuit presents a second set of ethics challenges to Hueso, who, in November 2007, was fined $17,000 by the San Diego Ethics Commission for raising money for a general-election campaign that never happened (Hueso had won the 2006 primary and was raising money to pay off campaign debts).
This new suit, filed by political and marketing consultant Ken Moser, alleges that Hueso failed to report $6,776.43 in legal fees in 2004, when he was running for a seat on the San Diego Unified School District's Board of Education. At the time, Pilar Arballo sued the school district to get her name on the ballot. Hueso hired the law firm of Sturmwasser & Woocher to challenge Arballo's suit, and he paid the firm out of his own pocket.
Hueso lost that election but won a 2005 special election to represent District 8 on the City Council. Moser says Hueso took a year to report the expenditures, and then never amended the prior campaign filings.
“I kept checking the forms, looking for those expenditures, and they never appeared,” Moser told CityBeat.
In October 2004, Moser sent out a press release pointing out Hueso's failure to report the expenditures. They appeared on the next filing made by Hueso's campaign, but Hueso never amended his earlier forms.
Moser filed a complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), which is charged with enforcing the laws regulating campaign donations, and he blames the long delay in filing the suit on waiting for the agency to take action. The FPPC eventually sent Moser a letter saying it would not take action against Hueso, though it did send Hueso an April 7, 2009, warning letter saying he shouldn't have used personal funds on the legal fees. Instead, he should donate money to his campaign, which could then spend it on the lawyers. Moser also asked District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis to look into his allegations, and she declined to prosecute.
Despite the high stakes, Hueso doesn't seem too concerned.
“He tried to get the FPPC involved, and the attorney general—they all didn't find a violation,” Hueso told CityBeat. “I think this is just simple harassment. I'm being targeted because I'm a Democrat and he's a Republican, and he has a history of targeting Democrats.”
Moser, a Republican, does have a litigious history. He's been a part 163 lawsuits during the last 15 years, most in small-claims court. He's filed suits against former City Councilmember Scott Peters, City Council candidate Tom Behr and San Diego Community College Trustee William Schwandt, all Democrats. Moser said most of the cases he's filed were against companies that spammed his fax machine and that he's won 95 percent of them.
“When there's a black and white case for corruption,” Moser said, “whether it's a junk fax or failing to file a $6,000 fee, the courts have validated that I'm right.”