By Robert J. Hansen | OBSERVER Staff Writer

Dr. Flojaune Cofer
Dr. Flojaune Cofer

Dr. Flojaune Cofer’s people-powered run for Sacramento mayor is being threatened by a political consultant for corporate interests, according to a press release by Cofer’s campaign.

The potential lawsuit by Steven Maviglio, principal of Forza Communications, comes after Dr. Cofer, the first Black woman to run for the seat, raised $160,000 from nearly 1,000 grassroots contributions within two months of her announcement to run, according to her campaign.

“The people of Sacramento are sick and tired of being kicked around by political bullies as homelessness skyrockets,” Dr. Cofer said in the press release. “Let’s be clear: A tiny fraction of corporate-aligned political insiders want to silence our supporters because they know I can’t be bought. But we’re not going anywhere. We will continue to fight for a better Sacramento – and we plan to win.”

Dave Kempa, Cofer’s communications director, said the city notified the campaign of an ethics complaint filed against it in August and eight days later received a cease-and-desist letter from an attorney representing Maviglio.

“Your actions in violating this ordinance are now willful and knowing, particularly since you have been notified of the rules and have publicly stated your intention to continue violating them,” wrote the attorney for Maviglio, Gary Winuk, who is now in private practice but previously was chief of enforcement for the Fair Political Practices Commission. “Therefore, you must not only correct the violations by returning the excess contributions but should also now terminate your campaign immediately.”

Kempa said the letter also demanded most of the money be returned and that Cofer end her campaign.

Kempa, who called the demand unconscionable and in bad faith, said the expected lawsuit comes after weeks of negotiations with Maviglio’s attorney ended with “We’ll see you in court.”

“This is a threat that we take seriously and we have no reason not to believe them,” Kempa said. “We got to a point with them where we felt that they weren’t going to see reason and decided to tell them that we weren’t going to respond to any of their demands anymore. We have to be prepared for that. We are dealing with the threat of somebody who wants to take us to court and we’re responding accordingly.”

Jon Ivy, attorney for the Cofer campaign, said they are proud of the overwhelming show of grassroots support and are confident they are in full compliance with the law.

“Any allegation otherwise is mistaken. We are well within the one-year primary election cycle designated by the city before our March 5 election,” Ivy told The OBSERVER in a statement.

Sacramento traditionally has had a one-year primary election period, during which candidates can raise unlimited funds for their campaigns.

“Mr. Maviglio mistakenly believes this year’s one-year primary election period is nine months,” Ivy said.

According to the city code, no mayor or mayoral candidate shall accept contributions totaling more than $67,900 in any single off-election year.

Currently, an off-election year is Jan. 1-March 31 of the calendar year preceding an election. A primary election period runs from April 1 of the year preceding an election through the month of the primary election.

These dates, however, are premised on a March primary. The city ties its primary election date to the statewide primary election date, which has been moved to June.

“It’s outrageous that the political establishment wants to silence the only woman in the race,” said Gabriela Utreras, a teacher and single mother of three who donated $18 to the campaign. “She’s the only candidate serious about ending the homelessness crisis. City Hall is the people’s house and Dr. Flo is the people’s candidate. She’s refusing corporate [political action committee] money that corrupts our elections.”

Maviglio is a longtime Sacramento political consultant with a history of representing big business over labor and who previously submitted four frivolous ethics complaints against Katie Valenzuela, the progressive Latina on City Council. All were dismissed.

Kempa thinks Maviglio’s attacks against Cofer reveal that Sacramento’s political establishment views her as a serious threat.

“If she wasn’t a threat, she wouldn’t be attacked at the level of ferocity that she is right now,” Kempa said.

Sacramento’s campaign contribution laws were created explicitly to level a political playing field that historically “give[s] incumbent elected officials an unfair fundraising advantage over potential challengers,” Cofer’s campaign said.

Maviglio’s complaint with the Sacramento Ethics Commission has been assigned to an independent evaluator, who is expected to share findings with the commision next month, according to the city.

Other Sacramento mayoral candidates include former Councilmember Steve Hansen, Assemblymember Kevin McCarty and former state Sen. Richard Pan.