Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido at a City Council meeting. Credit: Nick Gerda / Voice of OC

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Orange County campaign finance watchdog Shirley Grindle has sent a complaint to the state alleging that Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido broke the law when thousands of dollars in campaign debt mysteriously stopped showing up on public filings.

Grindle’s complaint, filed with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, claims Pulido neglected to show what happened to $15,750 in accrued expenses stemming from his 2012 bid for reelection, a potential violation of the 1974 Political Reform Act.

Grindle said she sent in her complaint after both the mayor’s lawyer and City Attorney Sonia Carvalho didn’t return her messages regarding the issue. Grindle says she would have preferred to handle the matter locally, and specifically complained about the lack of response from Carvalho.

“Which I consider kind of stupid on her part — you don’t mess with Shirley,” Grindle said. “I don’t mind being wrong, but I don’t like to be ignored.”

Later, Grindle told a Voice of OC reporter that she received a letter from Pulido’s attorney, Charles McClung, acknowledging that the mayor had erred on his disclosure forms. Yet she said McClung’s letter was also “very unclear” about whether the mayor would be doing the required form amendments.

A spokesman with the FPPC – which is already investigating conflict of interest allegations related to the mayor’s property swap with a city contractor – said the agency has yet to receive Grindle’s complaint.

The spokesman, Jay Wirenga, said in general any new investigations would likely be folded into the ongoing probe.

At the end of the 2012 election season, Pulido claimed on campaign finance disclosure forms that he owed money to four creditors – 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, which shows details of the outstanding debts.

Then in his filings this year, the debt disappeared altogether until the filing covering the pre-election period this year when Pulido disclosed that he had paid off his $2,250 debt to Stewart Sound.

Bob Stewart, owner of Stewart Sound, said Pulido only paid off the debt after learning that Voice of OC was planning to publish an article about the issue.

Another creditor, Betty Torres, editor at the Santa Ana-based Rumores Spanish Newspaper, had said previously that for a while she chased Pulido to pay his bills for campaign advertisements, but eventually stopped trying and forgave the debt.

State law requires candidates to show the ongoing story about what happens to their debt with each new filing – whether the debt still exists, has been paid off or been forgiven, Grindle said.

Also, forgiven debt can be considered an in-kind contribution. And if Pulido was relieved of debt from a creditor in excess of the city’s $1,000 contribution limit, that could be illegal.

Grindle said it’s unclear who enforces violations of the city’s campaign contribution limit, and she suggested that the city adopt a local ethics commission to watch over elected officials.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek

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