Halfhearted Campaign For Mayor Creates Suspicion That Valdivia Has Designs On His Electioneering War Chest

There is concern among both San Bernardino Mayor John Valdivia’s constituents and his political supporters that a significant amount of the more than $850,000 he amassed into his electioneering fund is being diverted to what will eventually become his personal use.
Valdivia, who has held elective office since 2012 following his 2011 election to the city council and who has been the mayor of what is both San Bernardino County’s largest city and its county seat since 2018, has himself contemplated being, and been considered by others as, a potential candidate for higher office, such as U.S. Congressman or a position in the California legislature. On June 7, however, he finished in third place for reelection as mayor, an event which instantaneously transformed him into a lame duck. Moreover, the nature of his loss and the events surrounding him and what led up to his defeat knells, a large number of the county’s more sophisticated political observers have indicated, the end of his viability as a politician, at least locally. One of the more remarkable things about Valdivia and what previously proved a key to his past success and, ironically, an element in his defeat earlier this month, is his penchant for raising an extraordinary amount of money in support of his electioneering efforts. Not only his one-time and current rivals but his current and erstwhile supporters, including many of those who supplied him with that money, are intensely curious as to what he will do with the money he now has left over. Accompanying that are questions as to why, when he had the chance to employ that money to prolong his political tenure, he did not do so.
The considerable discussion about Valdivia’s political financing, which has been ongoing not just since the results of the June 7 primary election have been released but in greater and lesser degrees in and around San Bernardino in recent months is a consequence of the sheer volume of that money.
In the last four years, Valdivia amassed a prodigious amount of money in terms of contributions into his political war chest. With the limited exceptions of some politicians from San Bernardino County seeking reelection to Congress, Mayor Valdivia is at the top of the other politicians in San Bernardino County seeking and obtaining elected office at the local agency, municipal, county and state legislative levels in raising electioneering funds.
Records show Valdivia collected $200,790.00 in donations in 2019, while using both the John Valdivia for Mayor 2018 and John Valdivia for Mayor 2022 brandings.
In 2020, having transitioned fully to collecting money under the aegis of John Valdivia for Mayor 2022, he was provided with $166,349.
In 2021, he received donations of $380,987.21 into the John Valdivia for Mayor 2022 account. In the first five months of 2022, he received another $106,500 into that account for a total over 42 months of $854,626.21.
Valdivia also created another fund, the Mayor John Valdivia Legal Defense Fund. With legal challenges against him mounting, he began transferring money out of the John Valdivia For Mayor 2022 account into the Mayor John Valdivia Legal Defense Fund, in the amounts of $37,700 in 2020, $165,400 in 2021 and $57,295.24 in 2022. In 2021, the Mayor John Valdivia Legal Defense Fund paid Pacheco & Neach, the law firm of his lawyer, Rod Pacheco, $199,885.40. This year, through the first five months of 2022, the Mayor John Valdivia Legal Defense Fund paid Pacheco & Neach $51,933.25.
While Mayor Valdivia utilized more than a quarter of a million dollars of his electioneering funds to pay for legal services – an amount that dwarfs the campaign budgets of the lion’s share of politicians/officeholders/candidates functioning in San Bernardino County in the same timeframe, he yet had left over for campaign purposes nearly $600,000 with which to run this year’s mayoral campaign. In addition, there are independent expenditure committees that were supporting him.
Nevertheless, he lost on June 7.
Some observers of the political scene in San Bernardino County have remarked at how relatively tepid Valdiva’s campaign for mayor was this year. In essence, his electioneering efforts did not seem much more energetic than those of three of his six opponents, the first-place finisher Helen Tran, one who had $193,037.97 in campaign financing at her disposal;  Jim Penman, who captured second-place while using slightly more than $41,000 to campaign with and Treasure Ortiz, who finished not too distant behind Valdivia, even though her spending was limited to less than the $13,527.65 in donations she collected, augmented by a spirited set of volunteers.
Months ago, there were rumors that Mayor Valdivia was using creative methods of filtering a portion of the substantial amount of money in his campaign coffers out of that account for personal use. With the relatively lackluster campaign he ran, those rumors reached a crescendo. Now that the results of the election are in, reports are flying in to suggest that Mayor Valdivia used several ruses to disguise transferences of money to himself as campaign expenditures, and that he has succeeded in stashing away approaching or upwards of $250,000 by doing this.
Last week, within days after the election, there were reports that Mayor Valdivia was traveling to Europe. That gave rise to rumors that Switzerland was on his itinerary, where he was said to be purposed to open a numbered account with a banking institution there that would become the repository for money that had once originated with those who had made investments, in the form of political donations, into his now defunct career as an elected public official. Variations on the report that he was traveling to Europe surfaced over the weekend, ones suggesting he was on the East Coast, and was making arrangements with banking institutions there.
An examination of the John Valdivia for Mayor 2022 campaign committee for the first nearly five months of this year – the height of the 2022 campaign so far – running from January 1 through May 21 does not provide an impression that Valdivia was making maximum use of the means available to him to prevail in the primary election and capture either first or second place to assure that he would be in the general election to be held between the finalists in November. He made a $175 disbursement to Kimberli Barnett for salary toward working on his campaign, and ones of $2,500; $2,500; 3,040.61; $3,489.74; $2,500; $6,630.58 and $35,391.16 to his campaign consultant Christopher Jones; $500 and $1,015 to Troast & Associates for campaign consulting and fundraising assistance; $18,000 to Candid Research Solutions for polling; $1,315 to T-Mobile for phone service; $2,127.90; $9,444.15; $1,640.61 and $8,900 to Minuteman Press for campaign literature; $3,070 to Budget Watchdogs for campaign literature; $686.76 to Express Printing for campaign equipment; $168.90 to Next Day Flyers for campaign literature; $217,50; $506.25; $487.50; $685.45; $1,033.75; and 1,172.95 to the KAL Group for professional accounting services; $689.74 to Voter Link for campaign literature; $2,718.03 and $5,490.61 to the U.S. Post Office for postage; $750; $1,500; and $650; $2,800; to Hareline Graphics for campaign literature; $720 to the Latino Family Voter Guide for campaign literature; $155.61; $1,173.06; and $4,640.80 to All the Right Connections for campaign workers’ salaries; $2,450 to Inland Empire Community News for newspaper ads; $1,699.92; $700; $700; $800; $800; $1,000; $1,000; $1,000 and $1,000 to HHKM Distribution for handbill delivery and walking precincts for the mayoral campaign; $600 to Integrated Solutions for office supplies; $6,500 and $8,000 to Hashtag Pinpoint for internet and website assistance; $4,000 and $2,500 to Facebook/Instagram; $1,650 to the Voter Newsletter for campaign literature; $100 to Jasmine Robinson for campaign consulting; $1,375 to Senior Advocate for campaign work; $266.89 to Dariela Mendez for campaign work; $274.67 and 210.09 to Ulisses Gonzalez for campaign work; $115.55 to Rodrigo Vizarrag for campaign work;  $400; $200; and $200 to Kenneth Valmonte for campaign work; $108.58 and $129.53 to Tatiana Vargas for campaign work; $650; $482.48: $61.59; $294.29; $367.08; $759.95 and $599.94 to Lawrence Pacheco II in salary for campaign work including walking precincts; $663.52; $333.52 and $792 to Jazmine Jimenez for campaign work; $750; $547.65; $362.72; $821.52; $659.55; $789.99 and $517.18 to Anna Ecscobar for her work on the campaign; $313.99 and $439.59 to Karminoe Franco for campaign work; $246.37 to Armandina Flores for campaign work; $266.89 to Meldoy Jacobs for work on the campaign; $227.5 to Maile Cogan for campaign work; $306.14 to Jeremy Chavez for campaign work; and $235.49 to Jesse Borrego for campaign work.
Immediately available documentation shows that there were $27,560.07 in charges against the campaign account’s Chase credit card this year for which there were no precise descriptions, including one for $1,982.35; one for $1,213.94; one for $841.07; one for $251.06; one for $829.04; one for $4,683.80; one for $2,450; one for $562.80; one for $1,671.05; one for $2,321.82; and one for $10,753.14, plus double billing of three charges totaling $4,683.85.
As of May 21, Valdivia’s campaign account showed an ending cash balance of $192,808.29. Thus, assuming that all the reporting of campaign activity in Valdivia’s finance disclosure forms was a reflection of what occurred, he left nearly $450,000 on the table when it came to conducting his 2022 mayoral election campaign, including money he simply did not spend or which he used not for campaign purposes but to construct a legal defense to accusations leveled against him.
Over the last two years, Valdivia as mayor was dogged by accusations that he had sexually harassed women working in his office at City Hall, had taken bribes from multiple businesses seeking project go-ahead or operating permits from the city, including companies seeking licenses to grow, distribute, sell wholesale or sell retail marijuana and to manufacture cannabis-related products, and that he had misappropriated city funds which he used for advancing himself politically or for non-city business related travel. Valdivia developed a reputation of being responsive to those who supported him politically by giving him money to run for office. This was at the basis of both Valdivia’s strength and weakness as a politician. The donations fattened his campaign coffers, making it possible for him to engage in spirited campaigns during which he purchased billboard space, television and radio advertisements, handbills, printed and sent mailers and posted campaign signs virtually everywhere. While that served him well, the votes he made to support those donors and what they were asking for was often out of step with the best interests of his constituents. This cut against him. He was seen as someone who was more loyal to his campaign donors than he was to the average citizens he represented. There was a perception that his votes were for sale and that he was a dishonest politician who was on the take. While he denied those charges, he still felt it necessary to spend over a quarter of a million dollars on having his attorney, Rod Pacheco, form the basis for him to contest those charges both administratively as well as in court.
Meanwhile, in the court of public opinion, Valdivia was lagging well of the pace in the race for mayor.
The adverse publicity from the combination of the accusations leveled at him may have, indeed seems to have, damaged his reelection prospects. The amount of money his campaign spent on polling – $18,000 to Candid Research Solutions – was more than would be typically spent on getting a determination of where the various candidates line up against one another. Polling carried out by other campaigns over the last several months indicated Valdivia was running as far back as in fourth place. It appears that Valdivia and his political team sought an exacting determination of where Valdivia stood heading into the June primary.
Valdivia had a reputation among many of his constituents of involvement in pay-to-play politics in which he freely traded whatever influence he had over the political process in San Bernardino for campaign contribution. According to two employees who once worked in the mayor’s office but are now suing him – former Municipal Services Representative Myrna Cisneros and Mayoral Field Representative Don Smith – Valdivia received under-the-table payments from those with business pending before the city. Rumors now abound that he is seeking to convert his electioneering money to cash or some other form that he can take direct possession of.
When reports surfaced that Valdivia, in the immediate aftermath of last week’s election, had departed for the East Coast or to Europe to find banking repositories where he could hide away a good portion of his campaign money, the Sentinel sought to speak with him.
When that failed, the Sentinel this week contacted Kelly Lawler, an employee with the KAL Group, which is doing the accounting for the Valdivia mayoral campaign. Lawler serves as Valdivia’s campaign treasurer.
The Sentinel asked Lawler, based on her knowledge and understanding of how typical political campaigns function, if she had tracked any anomalies in the way Valdivia’s campaign funds had been utilized, the pattern and types of disbursements during the campaign, the general ebb and flow of money through the account and the timing of transferences through it.
The Sentinel asked Lawler if, based on everything she knew within the context of her serving as Valdivia’s campaign treasurer, she believed Mayor Valdivia’s campaign finances were utilized in a realistic and earnest fashion toward the goal of extending his time in office as mayor or whether she detected that some of the disbursements made from the account ran counter to what she considered to be a sensible application of that money if the actual goal was to secure Valdivia’s reelection.
Lawler, on Thursday responded by saying she had contracted COVID-19, was working from home and might not be able to respond as quickly as under normal circumstances. She had not responded by press time.
In a slightly similar but situationally different context, Lawler acknowledged that minding the political accounts of politicians such as Valdivia represent a considerable challenge.
“Being a political treasurer is like riding a bike, except the bike is on fire, you’re on fire, everything is on fire, and you’re in Hell.”
The Sentinel also sought input from Valdivia’s attorney, Rod Pacheco. In addition to exploring some of the same issues touched upon in the letter to Lawler, the Sentinel asked Pacheco if Valdivia over the last six to eight months recognized that he was not likely to be reelected, and if Valdivia nevertheless used the circumstance he was in to continue to raise money for political purposes, and is now diverting that money, in creative ways, to himself and his cronies.
Like Lawler, Pacheco did not respond or provide any indication as to whether Valdivia is in fact seeking out financial institutions into which he can deposit the money he has left over from his now declining political career.
Mark Gutglueck

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