Members of the Fair Campaign Practices Commission review material before their Oct. 25 meeting. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Members of the Fair Campaign Practices Commission review material before their Oct. 25 meeting. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The Fair Campaign Practices Commission has decided to investigate whether any campaign laws were broken when the Yes on Measure S campaign paid people from $50 to $100 in cash to pass out campaign material on election day.

The commission also wants staff to look into whether the Yes on S campaign paid for an extra printing of endorsement fliers put out by the Berkeley Democratic Club without declaring its participation.

The decision to investigate came as the commission considered another complaint on Sept. 19 filed by Patricia Wall, executive director of the Homeless Action Center, and Bob Offer-Westort, the coordinator of the No on Measure S campaign. Measure S, which was defeated in November 2012, would have made it illegal to sit on sidewalks in commercial districts for much of the day.

In the original complaint, Wall and Offer-Westort charged the Berkeley Democratic Club with violating campaign laws because it filed contribution and expenditure reports with the California Secretary of State’s office rather than with the Berkeley City Clerk’s Office.

Kristy Van Herick, the commission’s staff attorney, concluded after an investigation that the Berkeley Democratic Club had not violated any campaign laws since in 2010 it designated itself a “State General Purpose Committee.” That meant it did not have to file reports with Berkeley, according to the staff report. It only had to file reports with the state.

The FCPC decided it wanted more information on the matter before accepting the staff interpretation. The commission will reconsider the matter at its November meeting.

“This area of regulation is a bit complicated,” said Van Herick.

The November 2012 election is long over, but its repercussions are still being felt, particularly at FCPC meetings. Berkeley’s progressive forces, which include those involved in the No on Measure S and No on Measure T campaigns, and in favor of the Progressive Affordable Housing Slate for the Rent Board, have filed three complaints against their political rivals in the past 11 months:

  • In October 2012, Zelda Bronstein (who was just appointed by Jesse Arreguin as an FCPC commissioner) filed a complaint charging that the Yes on Measure T campaign had fraudulently printed that it had backing from an SEIU local when in fact it did not. The commission decided not to consider the matter because it fell out of its jurisdiction.
  • In October, former mayor Shirley Dean filed a complaint with the FCPC stating that City Council member Laurie Capitelli, who was running for reelection, violated state campaign laws by mailing out a picture of himself standing next to his son, who is dressed in his police officer’s uniform. State law, Dean alleged, prohibits any peace officer from participating in political activities while in uniform. The FCPC also dismissed that complaint because it did not fall under its jurisdiction.
  • In May, the FCPC levied its heaviest fines ever against a landlord-backed group that sent out slate mailers in favor of a slate of rent board candidates called TUFF. The FCPC determined that the Slate Mailer Organization (SMO), its treasurer Rita Copeland, James Jay, an officer and rent board candidate, two of its donors, and Sid Lakireddy, the president of Berkeley Property Owners’ Association, violated Berkeley’s Election Reform Act in the way they administered the SMO and distributed its funds. The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) the state agency that monitors election law, sent a warning letter to the East Bay Rental Housing Association PAC for its failure to report to Berkeley that it contributed $12,000 to the TUFF slate.
  • In another election-related battle, Sid Lakireddy, president of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, is suing four members of the Progressive Affordable Housing Slate for libel for sending out an email in October associating him with a sexual slavery ring operated by his uncle Lakireddy Bali Reddy. That case is still pending.

The latest complaint was filed against the Berkeley Democratic Club, which was founded in 1934 and has consistently backed moderate Berkeley candidates like Mayor Tom Bates, State Senator Loni Hancock, City Council members Darryl Moore, Laurie Capitelli, and Susan Wengraf. The club also backed Measure S. In 2012, the BDC Political Action Committee spent $26,781 to print voter guides endorsing Bates, Moore, Capitelli, Wengraf, and others, according to Wall. They flyers said the recommendations were the “official endorsements of the Democratic Party,” even though they were not, according to Wall.

The single largest contributor to the BDC was the Yes on S campaign, according to filings. It gave $4,500 to the BDC, according to reports filed with the state.

The FCPC wants to know more about the expenditures made by the Yes on Measure S campaign, particularly one made on Nov 2. On that day, the Yes on S campaign paid Autumn Press $1,692.45 to print up an additional 10,000 voter guides put together by the BDC, according to a letter sent to the FCPC by John Caner, the director of the Downtown Berkeley Business Improvement District who was deeply involved with both the BDC and Yes on Measure S campaign.

Even though the Yes on Measure S campaign paid for the flyers, it did not reveal that on the voting cards. That may be a violation of Berkeley election laws, said Van Herick. That is one point she will be investigating.

Caner also lent $5,530 to the Yes on S campaign to hire people on election day to pass out the BDC voter guides. In an email to the FCPC, Caner said that the committee hired 52 people to pass out literature and paid them from $50 to $100 in cash for their work.

Many of the poll workers were homeless people recruited from churches, labor unions and the Options Recovery Service, according to the “No on S” campaign. [Update, Jan. 16, 2014: According to the “Yes on S” campaign, no homeless people were hired to do this work.]

The “Yes on S” campaign committee paid the workers in cash because “may of the workers do not have bank accounts and it would be difficult for them to cash the checks,” Caner wrote.

Both state and local election laws require campaign committees to pay poll workers with checks or credit cards so the funds can be traced, said Van Herick. She will also be looking into whether the Yes on S committee violated the law in making these payments.

Caner said he reported $5,000 of the loan, but not an additional $530, which happened after more people than expected showed up to work.

Caner wrote in his email to the FCPC that the Yes on Measure S committee may have inadvertently made mistakes in filing reports about its expenditures, and promised to work closely with the FCPC to remedy any violations.

“We want to do … whatever is necessary to correct the situation,” wrote Caner.

Wall and other homeless advocates expressed outrage that the Yes on Measure S group would hire homeless people to pass out literature supporting a law that would be to their detriment.

“Hiring the homeless clients of a recovery program to campaign for their own criminalization is the opposite of harm reduction. Berkeley’s vulnerable populations deserve better,” Wall said in a press release.

[Editor’s Note, Jan. 16, 2014: According to “Yes on S” campaign manager John Caner, no one who was hired to pass out campaign literature was homeless at that time, or had ever been homeless.]

Sid Lakireddy sues rent board candidates for libel (05.30.13)
Landlord-backed group fined for campaign violations (05.20.13)
Commission to consider alleged campaign violations (12.13.12)
Commission won’t review veracity of campaign literature (10.26.12)

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...