REGION — Multiple sources say that during the 2016 election cycle, Olga Diaz — then a member of the San Diego County Democratic Party Central Committee — worked quietly to support Republican candidate Kristin Gaspar for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors District 3 seat.
Diaz, a City Councilwoman in Escondido — now faces off against Gaspar for the seat, joined in that pursuit by fellow Democrat Terra Lawson-Remer. And speculation around Diaz’s potential work on behalf of Gaspar has generated two different ethics complaints to the San Diego County Democratic Party, copies of which sources shared with The Coast News on condition of anonymity.
“I’m writing to ask you to investigate an allegation that Olga Diaz supported Republican Kristin Gaspar over Democrat Dave Roberts in the 2016 election,” reads one of them. “If the allegation is in any way substantiated, then I hope the Central Committee will be made aware of the full facts so they can take appropriate action.”
The allegation was first made publicly by Jason Roe, the campaign manager for Gaspar, in a Jan. 6 tweet.
Multiple sources within the local Democratic Party, who requested anonymity due to having volunteer and professional relationships within it, cited frustration for Diaz as a motive for her support for Gaspar because then-Democratic Party Supervisor Dave Roberts did not endorse her during her unsuccessful 2014 mayoral run in Escondido. One source pointed to a pre-existing relationship she had with Roe.
Diaz, acknowledging a long-standing tie with Roe, said that she disavowed Roberts in that race within the Democratic Party Central Committee because he faced multiple whistleblower complaints and a mass exodus of staffers from his office during his time in office.
She also said she did not seek Roberts’ endorsement at all. Yet one local Democratic leader familiar with the inner workings of the 2014 race, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said Diaz did seek out Roberts’ endorsement.
“She went to meet with him in Escondido specifically to ask for his endorsement,” said the local Democrat.
Additionally, Diaz said that Roberts did not endorse any candidates in 2014, so asking for his endorsement “really wasn’t relevant.” But according to a 2014 article by Times of San Diego, Roberts endorsed U.S. Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego) during that cycle. Betty Yee — a candidate that year for controller — also listed Roberts as one of her endorsers in 2014, according to the Wayback Machine web archive.
Diaz did acknowledge helping the Gaspar campaign during the race’s primary cycle. The primary featured former Escondido Mayor Sam Abed, a Republican and political adversary of Diaz during their time spent together on the City Council.
Roe said that he remembers things differently, with Roberts central to Diaz’s calculus in that race.
“Olga reached out and said that she wanted to be helpful,” said Roe. “And so, she started to feed me information about things that were going on within Dave Roberts’ office, within the Democratic Party Central Committee, generally as it related to the campaign. Kind of just keeping me in the loop on what was going on.”
Roe and Diaz both said that they met during the political skirmish over the Escondido Country Club housing proposal, in which Roe worked for the owner of the project and Diaz supported the project. That owner of the development, the Beverly Hills-based Michael Schleisinger, is now a contributor to both the Diaz and Gaspar campaigns.
Though they met in the context of the Country Club fallout, the relationship did not end there.
During the 2016 campaign’s opening months in late-2015, Roe invited Diaz and her husband and Gaspar and her husband to be his guest at the Lincoln Club of San Diego County’s annual dinner. The Lincoln Club acts as one of the main voices of the San Diego business sector in political races. Diaz disclosed attending the gala on her disclosure form filed with the California Fair Political Practices Commission.
Gaspar did not disclose the gift on her Form 700 disclosure form, according to a copy obtained by The Coast News, but Diaz confirmed that Gaspar attended the gala.
“To me, it was an opportunity, first of all, to have sort of a mischievous way to just get under Sam’s skin,” Diaz said. “You know, it sounded like innocent fun to me.”
Later in the election cycle, both Republican and Democratic party activists say they recall Diaz’s interactions at an April 26, 2016 forum held at the Joslyn Senior Center as looking like a supporting and consulting relationship. Diaz said she does not remember the forum.
“To my recollection, it was more than friendliness,” said a Republican who attended the event. “I recall, not with specificity, comments that she made that made it pretty clear that Kristin had her trust and Dave Roberts did not.”
One Democratic Party activist noted, after the candidate forum, that some Democrats in attendance thought Diaz might soon publicly endorse Gaspar. They witnessed Diaz engaged in a deep conversation with Gaspar for an extended time, with the two of them being “super friendly and engaged.”
“I guess when somebody comes into an event or forum at the tail end and basically makes a beeline towards a participating candidate, it’s clear that’s their primary reason for stopping by, was to connect with that individual,” said the activist, who asked for anonymity due to their personal relationships that could be jeopardized in the Democratic Party club network. “It seemed liked they were in cahoots planning something up their sleeve.”
The endorsement did not happen, Roe claimed, due to a deal struck between Diaz and Roe.
“At one point, I asked Olga if she would endorse Kristin,” said Roe. “She said she would do it if I felt it would make a difference, but that she would be kicked off the Central Committee. She felt she could be more helpful remaining on and I agreed.”
Diaz denied that such a deal ever existed.
“There is no secret strategy discussed at Central Committee meetings,” she said. “I think what he is is desperately trying to show that somehow I am not a good Democrat.”
Roe said that if it wasn’t useful, he would not have kept in touch with Diaz throughout the race.
Later in May 2017, Diaz invited Gaspar as a guest speaker at the Escondido Democratic Club. She said she did so because party clubs often do so for elected officials of the opposite party who represent their district early on in their terms. The Escondido Republican Club, for example, had Escondido’s Democratic Mayor Paul McNamara as its guest in January 2019.
Larry Kornit, co-chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party’s Ethics Committee, denied comment on the ethics complaint. Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, chair of the San Diego County Democratic Party, also denied comment.
The ethics complaints argue that, if coordination is discovered to have existed, then the Democratic Party should reconsider whether Diaz should keep her rating as a “qualified” candidate by the party’s Central Committee.
“These allegations are serious, especially given that Ms. Diaz in the past admitted publicly that she had supported another Republican candidate,” reads the other letter, pointing to Diaz’s 2016 cycle support for Republican Mike Diaz, who now sits on the Chula Vista City Council. “As some of you might recall, because of this ethics violation, Ms. Diaz came close to losing her position as a Central Committee member.”
Steve Horn is a San Diego, CA-based reporter covering Escondido and San Marcos. He works in a full-time capacity for The Real News Network, an online broadcast news outlet, covering climate change. He has worked as a staff investigative reporter for the publications Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News and as an investigative reporter for the climate news website DeSmog.com. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org.