The election is less than two weeks away. Photo: ClatieK/Flickr

Campaign notebook is a regular news feature Berkeleyside is running ahead of the elections.

Candidates are learning to navigate Berkeley’s new Public Financing Program

2018 is the first time candidates running for Berkeley City Council have been able to participate in the Public Financing Program. The newness of the law and its provisions has caught up with two people competing for the District 8 seat — Mary Kay Lacey and Lori Droste.

Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission voted Oct. 18 that there was probable cause both candidates violated provisions of the Berkeley Election Reform Act (BERA). The commission will decide at its November meeting what penalties, if any, should apply to Droste. The members agreed to continue the discussion about Lacey’s campaign violations because they might have deeper implications. The law states that anyone making a “serious violation” could be disqualified from participating in public financing for four years.

The public campaign financing law only allows participating candidates to accept a maximum of $50 from any individual. It also prohibits loans. The Lacey campaign appears to have violated both provisions of the law, according to a staff report.

On March 21, Stephen Henry, Lacey’s husband and campaign treasurer, made a $50 loan to her campaign. On May 5, he made a $50 contribution to the campaign, bringing the total amount of his give to $100.

On May 7, Lacey asked for and was granted public campaign financing, including for Henry’s $50 contribution. The city gave $300 for that donation.

The City Clerk’s office noticed that Henry had sent $100 to Lacey’s campaign and wrote the candidate to ask about it Aug. 6. Lacey said her campaign had reimbursed Henry $50 on May 5, effectively canceling his loan. But the campaign could not produce a check showing that loan repayment. Instead, it had a check made out to Lacey for $50. (The couple has a joint checking account.)

“Mr. Henry confirmed that his May 5, 2018, $50.00 gift contribution and $50.00 loan were both deposited in the Committee’s bank account at the same time and that the Committee had $100.00 in its bank account from him at one time,” according to an FCPC staff report.

Moreover, taking any loan is not allowed.

“When Candidate Lacey accepted the March 21, 2018, $50.00 loan from Mr. Henry, this appeared to violate the restrictions on the types of contributions public financing candidates may accept as it did not fall within one of the three categories of acceptable contributions,” said the report.

Henry was upfront with the commission about what had happened and attributed the error to the fact that he is a first-time treasurer and thought he was following the rules.

After Igor Tregub, a candidate for the District 1 City Council seat, deposited $100 into a bank account to open his campaign account, the city told him he was ineligible for matching campaign funds.

The commission spent a significant amount of time grappling with the implications of the Lacey campaign issues but came to no decision. All the commissioners appeared cognizant that this is the first time public financing has been used. Some felt if there were violations that were minor or inadvertent, candidates should be given a break. Others brought up the troubling idea that the loan should have made Lacey ineligible for matching funds. Another commissioner said she wanted to see a timeline of events to better understand what went into the mistake.

Droste campaign

The commission determined there was probable cause to believe incumbent Lori Droste violated Berkeley election law when she held a campaign kick-off event in a vacant store on College and Ashby avenues owned by Gordon Commercial Real Estate. While state law allows a candidate to use a business space for a fundraiser if the total cost of the event is less than $500, BERA does not allow any non-monetary contribution to be more than $50. Harriet Steele filed a complaint with the FCPC. When alerted of the transgression, the Droste campaign quickly sent $100 to Gordon Commercial Properties and revised its 460 form filed with the city. The FCPC has yet to vote on the size of the penalty that will be levied.

The FCPC can take any of the actions for Droste and Lacey’s campaigns:

  1. Dismiss the complaint and take no further action;
  2. Request the secretary to conduct a further investigation;
  3. Require the timely filing of campaign statements and/or amendments to campaign statements;
  4. Invite the respondents to participate in settlement negotiations.
  5. Schedule and conduct a hearing pursuant to Section 2.12.230 of BERA.
  6. Ask the City Attorney or the District Attorney to seek legal remedies.
  7. Seek any other remedy within its authority.

Berkeley youth got the right to vote — but when?

Melina Fike (far right) and other youth organizers give the Berkeley School Board an update on the process to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in board elections. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Election Day will mark two years since a large majority of Berkeley voters decided to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in School Board elections.

Those eager teenagers — many of whom have pre-registered — won’t get a say in the three seats on the ballot Nov. 6, however. There are a number of logistical hurdles to overcome before the young voters can exercise their new rights, officials say.

At its meeting this week, the School Board authorized the district to spend up to $20,000 on a lawyer to represent BUSD as the implementation process gets off the ground. Measure Y1, passed in 2016 with more than 70% of the vote, said the city of Berkeley would not be responsible for any of the cost.

Many local high school students have long worked on this effort, with support from the Berkeley League of Women Voters and other groups. The youth are part of the national Vote16 campaign, but Berkeley is one of just a few cities, and the first in California, to approve the concept.

Some of the Berkeley High student organizers, many of whom are in the YMCA Youth & Government program, told the School Board on Wednesday that they’ve been tirelessly registering their peers during lunch, after school and at assemblies.

Student Melina Fike said she was “a little disappointed” the newly-registered teenagers wouldn’t be able to vote this year.

“We were really ready to come into 2018… and make this part of the culture at Berkeley High,” she said. “Although we are hopeful it’ll happen in 2020.”

The unprecedented nature of Berkeley’s measure made it unclear how quickly, or even if, this could be pulled off, the board’s President Josh Daniels told Berkeleyside. He said the fact that Alameda County Registrar of Voters Tim Dupuis even sat down with the district and said the measure could be implemented was “a very positive sign.”

Daniels said a lawyer for the district who understands election law will help with numerous decisions that remain, including whether to print separate youth ballots so teenagers don’t inadvertently vote on other races; whether to differentiate the ballots by color; how to train poll workers; whether youth can vote by mail; how to modify the county’s vote-counting system; and how to make sure accurate data is collected.

The challenges, Daniels said, are “not impossible to overcome, but need to be thought through” — and paid for.

Although the board unanimously approved the $20,000 to figure out logistics, board member Ty Alper said, at the meeting, that he was concerned about the ultimate, unknown cost of actually carrying out the plan.

Alper thanked the young organizers for their work so far, and told them: “You’re getting a great lesson in the pace of bureaucratic machinery. If you can pull this off, you’ll be able to do anything.

Bernie Sanders in Berkeley

Bernie Sanders and Jovanka Beckles. Photo:

When then-candidate Bernie Sanders came to Oakland in 2016, his rally drew 20,000 people.

The Berkeley Community Theater, where the senator is holding a get-out-the-vote rally with candidates at 10:45 a.m. Saturday only seats 3,500. We’ll see how early lines begin to form.

Sanders, who is considering a 2020 presidential run, will appear with Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who is up for reelection, and Assembly District 15 candidate Jovanka Beckles.  Many insiders think Sanders will endorse Beckles at the rally. Both are Democratic Socialists, which means they are in the left wing of the Democratic Party.

Lee, who received more than 99% of the primary vote, is facing a Green Party challenger, Laura Wells. She has endorsed Beckles, a Richmond city councilwoman who is running against former Barack Obama staffer Buffy Wicks in a highly contentious race drawing huge amounts of cash.

This article has been corrected to say Sanders has not endorsed Beckles but may at the rally.

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Natalie Orenstein

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...