Less than three weeks until the mayoral election, candidate Tom Bates and incumbent Mayor Shirley Dean are defending themselves against charges of campaign finance impropriety.
For Bates, Thursday night’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission meeting brought good news. He was cleared of a charge that he accepted campaign contributions above the legal limit.
Dean, though, was forced to acknowledge that she mishandled campaign contributions, though she was absolved of any intentional wrongdoing. Dean conceded she breached a minor technicality of the city’s finance law because she was given bad counsel from the city attorney’s office.
“I just followed the advice of city staff,” Dean said in an earlier interview. She said the charges against her, filed by Bates’ campaign treasurer, were politically motivated.
The charges against Bates came from Berkeley resident Marie Bowman. She accused the mayoral candidate of illegally accepting four campaign contributions of $500. Berkeley law forbids donors from giving more than $250 per election cycle.
Bowman filed the charge after seeing Bates’ Oct. 7 campaign finance disclosure forms, which showed the $500 contributions in a column marked “Per Election To Date.” But Bates’ campaign treasurer Mal Burnstein said the figures were the result of a computer glitch and should have read $250.
An inquiry by the city attorney’s office supported Burnstein’s contention, and the commission dropped the charges.
Last month Burnstein claimed that Dean wrongly classified nearly $3000 in 2002 campaign funds as office expenses. In a separate, but related charge, Berkeley resident Carrie Olson charged Dean of accepting donations greater than the $250 limit during her 1998 campaign for mayor.
An inquiry by the city attorney’s office found that both claims were attributable to accounting errors made by a Dean campaign official in 1999.
That year, Dean initiated a fund raising effort to pay back about $24,000 in debt from her 1998 campaign. In the process, her then-treasurer Tom Luten allowed donors who had already given the allowable $250 to also give toward her debt drive. While Luten counted the money toward the 1998 campaign, it should have been counted toward the 2000 campaign since the donors had already made their maximum 1998 contributions.
Also, because Dean believed she had a $7,700 surplus from the 1998 campaign after her debt drive, she received permission from the city attorney to allocate nearly $3000 of that as office holder expenses. The rest of it was transferred to the 2002 campaign.
As part of the agreement brokered by the city’s campaign commission, Dean must now re-file her campaign records, identifying the entire $7,700 surplus raised in 1999 as 2002 campaign funds.
The commission will meet again on Oct. 30 to hear a complaint filed by Berkeley resident Sam Herbert against Bates. Herbert alleges that the Bates campaign accepted illegal donations from political action commissions because the commissions accepted corporate donations, a violation of Berkeley finance law.
Burnstein insists that Herbert has misinterpreted Berkeley law, and that the contributions are legal.
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