A curious thing happened after Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido reported $15,750 in campaign debt accrued during his bid for reelection in 2012.
It went missing.
The debt was first disclosed on Pulido’s first campaign finance filing for 2013, which covered January through June of that year. On a form disclosing creditors and known as a schedule F, Pulido showed debts to three businesses and one person – Rumores Spanish Newspaper, Stewart Sound, the DeSnoo and DeSnoo political consulting firm, and John P. Vega.
The second filing, which covered the second half of 2013, disclosed the same amount of debt but didn’t include the required schedule F.
Then in his filings this year, the debt disappeared altogether.
According to Shirley Grindle, Orange County’s campaign finance watchdog, the state’s Political Reform Act requires candidates to document on campaign finance forms whether they have ongoing debt.
If the debt is paid off, the filings must disclose that. If it is forgiven or isn’t paid off, then that must also be publicly documented. In other words, candidates have to show the entire money trail — there can be no gaps or discrepancies.
“He definitely has to amend these reports,” Grindle said. “State law, you can’t just forget about these things. They have to be explained.”
Pulido hung up on a reporter seeking comment.
One creditor claims Pulido never paid his bill, while another said the mayor only paid off his debt after Voice of OC made inquiries.
“Sloppy reporting,” said Grindle, who years ago was Pulido’s campaign treasurer. “I don’t know whether they do it on purpose, probably so.”
“Have you ever seen Miguel Pulido’s filing system?” She added. “It’s the back seat of his car.”
Betty Torres, Editor at the Santa Ana-based Rumores Spanish Newspaper, said that for a while she chased Pulido to pay his bills for campaign advertisements, but eventually stopped trying and forgave the debt.
“[Pulido] said, oh wait for me, wait for me,” Torres said.
There are a few problems with the way Pulido handled the reporting of his debt to Rumores. Under state law, debt forgiven should have been recorded as an in-kind contribution, but it wasn’t.
Second, Pulido had disclosed that his debt to Rumores was $1,500. But Torres said the actual figure was at least double that.
Finally, there’s the problem of the $1,000 campaign contribution limit under city law. An in-kind contribution of $3,000 would be $2,000 over the limit.
But Grindle said there is some grey area with under state law because the businesses and candidates can negotiate down the total debt without it being recorded as an in-kind contribution.
Bob Stewart, owner of Stewart Sound, at first declined to comment on Pulido’s $2,250 debt to his business. But this week Stewart said Pulido paid off the debt after learning that Voice of OC was planning to publish an article about the issue.
Dennis DeSnoo, Pulido’s campaign manager and owner of DeSnoo and DeSnoo, hung up on a reporter seeking comment. According to the first 2013 filing, Pulido’s campaign had owed DeSnoo’s business $7,000.
John P. Vega, whom according to filings Pulido owed $5,000 for phone banks, could not be reached for comment.
Issues regarding financial disclosures have dogged Pulido for much of his political career.
Pulido’s former political adversary, Nativo Lopez, contended in a 2001 lawsuit that the mayor failed to disclose his business ties to Santa Ana developer Kris Kakkar on public statements of economic interest as required under state law.
During the court battle, Pulido offered Lopez’s immigrant rights organization Hermandad Mexicana Nacional $20,000 to withdraw the case, according to the Los Angeles Times.
As a result of the suit, the mayor was forced to amend his filings, the Times reported.
And more recently, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) launched an investigation into a property swap between Pulido and a city contractor. Among other problems – including allegations that the real estate deal could amount to bribery – Pulido didn’t disclose the transaction on his statements of economic interests.
In addition to the FPPC probe, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and the IRS are investigating Pulido for possible criminal violations.