A ballot collection box on UC Campus. October 13, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos

Allegations have been levied against Mayor Jesse Arreguín and one of his mayoral challengers, Wayne Hsiung, that their campaigns are violating Berkeley’s Election Reform Act (BERA).

The charges, filed by two separate individuals, allege that both campaigns have not provided financial disclosures required by law on election materials. Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission is investigating a  similar complaint that was lodged against four candidates running on a pro-homeowner slate for the Rent Stabilization Board.

Jacquelyn McCormick, who is Arreguín’s chief of staff, filed a BERA complaint against Hsiung’s campaign on Oct. 15. Jeffrey Davidson, who is from Southport, North Carolina, filed a BERA complaint against Arreguín’s campaign on Oct 16. Davidson is volunteering for Hsiung’s mayoral campaign and recently submitted updated incorporation papers with the state for Direct Action Everywhere, the Berkeley-based animal rights group that Hsiung co-founded.

Arreguín has already added new language to his campaign ads to disclose he has made a personal loan to his campaign — a move, he said he made to increase his campaign’s transparency, not as an admission of guilt. He has hired an attorney to respond to the allegations, he said.

Hsiung did not return a request for comment.

Complaints not uncommon during election season

It is not uncommon during election season for people rooting for one candidate to file BERA complaints against competitors. Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission will look at the allegations and determine if they are worthy of investigation. If so, a staff attorney on the commission will prepare a report to present to the FCPC, which will then vote whether to investigate further. Sometimes the FCPC fines candidates for their violations; other times it just issues warnings.

The section under contention in the cases concerning Arreguín and Hsiung center around Berkeley Municipal Code: 2.12.335: “Disclosure on campaign communications of certain contributions and loans.”

McCormick’s complaints allege that Hsiung has not included information on who or what is paying for flyers that have been distributed around Berkeley. For example, the flyers don’t read, “Paid for by Wayne Hsiung for Mayor campaign, FPPC #0000.”

There is no FPPC number on the flyer, which is required by law, McCormick wrote in the complaint.

In addition, Compassionate Bay, a political group formed by members of Direct Action Everywhere, put out door hangers endorsing Hsiung, City Council members Ben Bartlett and Cheryl Davila and District 5 City Council candidate Paul Darwin Picklesimer. There is no identifying information for who paid for those door hangers, said McCormick.

Either a slate mailer organization or an independent expenditure campaign must have paid for the Compassionate Bay material, and, by law, they should have filed reports with Berkeley or the state which they did not, said McCormick. Berkeleyside did not find any filings.

Compassionate Bay did not respond to a request for comment.

After this article was published, Davidson emailed Berkeleyside to say that the Hsiung campaign has not posted any flyers but has only handed out door hangers campaign literature and hung up signs. The flyers may have been posted by people not formally associated with the campaign, he said.

In Davidson’s complaint about Arreguín, Davidson pointed out that the mayor had lent his campaign $13,000 by Sept. 13. That makes Arreguín a major donor to his own campaign. Berkeley election law requires that campaign communications “shall include the name of the committee and the phrase “Major Funding Provided By” immediately followed by the name of the contributor, the city of domicile, and the total cumulative sum of contributions by each of the top four contributors over $250.”

Davidson submitted a number of ads Arreguín ran on Facebook in October that did not reveal that the mayor was a major contributor. He also said that Arreguín had sent out emails without this information. Berkeley law requires financial disclosure any time a candidate sends out 1,000 emails in a month.

After learning of the complaint, Arreguín added the sentence “Major Funding Provided By Jesse Arreguín (Berkeley, $14,760)” to his website and digital adds. Previously, his ads had just stated, “Paid for by Re-Elect Mayor Jesse Arreguín 2020, FPPC ID # 1409567.”

Other BERA complaints in the 2020 election

The Fair Campaign Practices Commission (FPPC) voted Oct. 15 to have staff investigate a complaint filed by Andrea Mullarkey a Richmond resident, Berkeley library worker and shop steward for SEIU Local 1021, which represents about 1,000 city of Berkeley workers. Mullarkey alleges that four candidates running on the Homeowners for Berkeley Rent Board slate  — Bahman Ahmadi, Dan McDunn, Soulmaz Panahi and Wendy Saenz Hood Neufeld – had not provided sufficient financial disclosure on the slate’s website and on a YouTube video linking to the website. Since the complaint was filed, the website has been updated, according to a report by Berkeley staff serving the FCPC.

In 2018, the FCPC determined that Arreguín’s mayoral campaign committee had violated Berkeley election law 18 times. The violations occurred after McCormick used her personal credit card 18 times to pay a total of $3,339.66 for various campaign expenses. She was not reimbursed within 45 days, so the expenses became donations. But Berkeley election law (BERA) only permits individuals to contribute $250 to campaigns, so the amount above that which McCormick donated violated BERA, according to the commission. Arreguín accepted responsibility for the violations and said the mistakes were inadvertent. His campaign paid a $1,000 fine.

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...