Mayor Shirley Dean was dealt a blow by the city’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission Thursday, when commissioners found the mayor, who is rapt in her bid for re-election, to be in “probable violation” of Berkeley campaign finance law.
The commission is asking Dean to admit she improperly accepted about $550 above contribution limits during her successful 1998 mayoral run. In a second decision, the commission is asking Dean to re-classify about $3,000 of office funds as 2002 campaign contributions.
The decisions come in response to complaints filed by the treasurer of the Tom Bates For Mayor Committee, which is seeking to unseat Dean this November, and a fellow Bates supporter.
Dean called the complaints a political ploy and criticized the Fair Campaign Practices Commission for heeding the grumblings of her opponents and making a big deal of a small issue.
“Normally, they just ask you to re-file paperwork,” Dean said. “The commission wants me to confess to wrongdoing.”
Dean said her financial reporting in question was approved by the city attorney’s office, and if any reporting was done incorrectly, it was because she acted on bad legal counsel.
“It’s not a question of trying to hide anything,” Dean said. “I just followed the advice of city staff.”
The city attorney could not be reached for comment Friday.
In the first complaint against Dean, Berkeley resident Carrie Olson alleged that the mayor accepted five contributions above the $250 limit for her 1998 campaign. The total illegal contributions amounted to between $550 and $700, Olson said.
“There was negligence somewhere and when you’re an elected official, it’s your responsibility [to make sure that doesn’t happen],” Olson said.
Dean explained that the city attorney’s office advised her to declare some of the money as “office holders” for operational expenses, not campaign contributions. Thursday’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission decision contradicts the city attorney’s counsel, she said.
Dean tried to reach the city attorney Friday to clear up the matter, but was unsuccessful.
Dean also said that with more than 2,000 contribution checks coming into her office during the 1998 race, an accounting mistake is possible.
In the second complaint against Dean, Bates campaign treasurer Mal Burnstein said Dean incorrectly declared $3,000 of surplus funds from her 1998 campaign as “office holders.” Since the money was spent after the 1998 race, Burnstein successfully argued that the money should be counted toward the mayor’s 2002 campaign expenses.
“We want to make sure we have a level playing field [in this November’s race],” Burnstein said earlier this week.
Dean said the misallocation complaint was merely a matter of “filing a form.”
No financial penalties accompany the commission’s decisions.