CV’s Steve Padilla Continues Habit of Running Up Debts
Former Chula Vista Mayor Steve Padilla, running for a seat on the Chula Vista City Council, is accused of running his current campaign with over $16,000 in unpaid bills, even as he continues to carry over $35,000 in debt from his past campaigns.
As of his official election report of September 24, Padilla’s current campaign showed a total debt of $16,578.93 in unpaid bills.
A citizen’s complaint prepared this week alleges Padilla has violated Chula Vista’s elections laws by not paying his campaign bills. Specifically, the Chula Vista City Municipal Code states that “A loan or extension of credit shall be considered a contribution from the maker of the loan or extender of credit and shall
be subject to the contribution limit of $320 per person.”
The complaint details campaign debts Padilla has amassed during the past 12 years, including for two past elections in which he lost races for Chula Vista Mayor in 2006 and for Chula Vista City Council
in 2014, as well as his on-going campaign for
Padilla has violated the law, the complaint alleges, by spending more on his campaigns than the money he had raised, allowing him to finance his campaigns and allowing himself time to raise more funds after the election cycle.
The complaint also contends that Padilla has carried thousands of dollars in debt for years, and he failed to repay those debts before he started raising money for each subsequent campaign.
Although he is currently raising and spending money for his 2016 campaign, Padilla’s official campaign filings show over $31,000 of debt from his 2014 failed campaign for Chula Vista City Council, as well as having owed thousands of dollars at the end of his failed mayoral re-election campaign in 2006. Records show Padilla carried debt from his 2006 campaign committee for over eight years, and then abruptly closed the campaign account in 2015 with an outstanding debt balance of $3,577 in unpaid bills.
In this year’s campaign, Padilla has raised over $52,000 as of October 22, but has not used that money
to repay his past outstanding balances.
Several other California cities have limits on carrying debts by an “extension of credit” via unpaid bills to “protect the integrity of the electoral process” and to “limit the use of loans and extensions of credit to finance political campaigns.”
The City of Petaluma, for example, defines extension of credit as “the provision of goods or services for which payment in full is not received”, and limits those debts to 30 days from the receipt of goods or services.
San Diego only allows its candidates to carry debt for up to 180 days after the goods or services are received.
The City of Sacramento limits extensions of credit to its $1,650 campaign contribution limit and those debts must be paid within 90 days.
In Padilla’s case, most of his unpaid bills have been for campaign mailings and campaign consulting services. The outstanding debt combined for the three elections totals more than $53,000, almost exactly the amount he has raised so far in this year’s campaign.
Critics have long accused Padilla of failing to manage the City’s finances well during his tenure as Mayor from 2002 to 2006. During the time he led the City, reserves were spent down to historically low levels, while, at the same time, Padilla was criticized for taking City pay for meetings he never attended.
Also during his time as Mayor, Padilla was criticized for using a city-funded SUV driven and hiring a private bodyguard at a cost to taxpayers of over $10,000 per month. Padilla was also found to be taking several pay-day advances from the City during that time. Padilla’s salary as Mayor was over $100,000
Those charges were used effectively against Padilla during his re-election campaign for mayor in 2006, and he eventually lost that campaign to Cheryl Cox, at that time a member of the Chula Vista Elementary School Board and long-time educator. Cox is the wife of former Chula Vista Mayor and now-County Supervisor Greg Cox. Cheryl Cox went on to serve as Mayor for two terms from 2006 to 2014.
The complaint also alleges that Padilla’s campaign debts could create an undue influence on policy issues that may come before him if he were to be elected once again to the City Council.
Specifically, the complaint alleges that “a future Councilman Padilla could pressure people with items before the Council to donate to his campaign debt when he’s considering how to vote on their issues, creating a conflict that would not exist if he didn’t have left over debts.”
The complaint is directed to Chula Vista City Clerk Donna Morris, who, under City ordinance, must forward it to the City’s Enforcement Authority comprised of three independent attorneys selected by the City Ethics Commission. If sufficient evidence is found to merit action, the complaint could be forwarded to the District Attorney for misdemeanor prosecution, or adjudicated by the Enforcement Authority.
The same complaint will also be delivered to the Chula Vista Ethics Commission which is charged with enforcing the City’s Code of Ethics. The City’s Code of Ethics states that “City officials are expected to abide by all local, state, and federal laws.”
Padilla’s previous campaign was for City Council in 2014. In that race, Padilla ran against then-Sweetwater School Board member John McCann. Padilla lost by a margin of only two votes.
John McCann has also been criticized for accruing massive debt in his election campaigns. At the highest mark, McCann owed over $55,000 in unpaid expenses. At the end of 2015, more than one year after his election, McCann, still owed $12,529 in unpaid bills, in additional to over $90,000 in unpaid legal bills.
McCann is currently on the Chula Vista City Council.
Padilla is currently facing a run-off campaign against local business owner Jason Paguio.
According to Paguio’s official election filings, he has raised a total of $37,337 in his campaign, and reported $726 unpaid bills.