Page One

Election Complaints Continue to Target Chamber

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday November 28, 2006

The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee may have violated local election laws, according to Councilmember Dona Spring who says she is preparing a formal complaint against Business for Better Government Berkeley Chamber of Commerce PAC.  

Spring plans to submit the complaint for consideration at the next Fair Campaign Practices Commission meeting, which is in January. 

In a separate challenge to Chamber politicization, Spring intends to ask the City Council Dec. 12 to request a legal ruling on the viability of city membership in the Chamber, because of the Chamber’s endorsement of local candidates and measures. 

Spring alleges that the Chamber PAC skirted local election law that restricts donations to individual candidates to $250 and prohibits corporate donations. “They did not report according to Berkeley election law,” Spring said. 

The Chamber PAC raised and spent about $100,000 to defeat Measure J, oppose Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Dona Spring (and thus support Worthington challenger George Beier and Spring challenger Raudel Wilson) and to support Mayor Tom Bates, according to city and county election records. 

As an independent committee—independent from any candidate or measure—the Chamber PAC files reports with the county, thus reserving the option of supporting candidates outside of Berkeley, according to PAC treasurer Stacy Owens. And the PAC, unlike a candidate committee, is obligated to file in Berkeley only at the time it makes expenditures for Berkeley candidates or measures, she said: During the period in September and October during which the PAC raised the bulk of its money, but spent none, it was obligated to file its reports only with the county. 

But Spring argues the PAC does not function as a truly “independent” committee. According to California law, independent expenditure committees support or oppose candidates or measures “not in coordination with the candidate or his or her campaign committee.” 

Spring argues that, by all appearances, Raudel Wilson’s campaign coordinated with the PAC. Literature sent out by the PAC and by Wilson resemble each other closely, she says—both pieces, for example, criticize Spring in similar ways as causing the closure of Radston’s, a downtown stationery store.  

“It’s too close to be a coincidence,” Spring said. 

Moreover, Spring points out that PAC treasurer Owens was also Wilson’s campaign treasurer. During the campaign, Wilson told the Daily Planet that he had known Owens for years and there was no relationship between her work as his treasurer and as the Chamber PAC treasurer. Wilson also said at the time that his attendance at a September PAC fundraiser had no relationship to his campaign. 

Spring also argues that it was improper for the PAC to lump all its contributions into one pot. Contributions should have been segregated to indicate how much as designated from each contributor to each candidate or measure, Spring said. 

For example, the public does not know if Berkeley resident George Battle’s $14,000 PAC contribution went toward defeating Measure J, attempting to defeat Spring or Worthington, or supporting Bates. 

Chamber President Roland Peterson said in a brief Nov. 16 interview that the PAC has noted, internally, the intent of each of the contributors.  

This year, the Berkeley Chamber, in an action the organization says was distinct from the PAC campaigning, endorsed candidates Bates, Wilson, Beier and District 8 Councilmember Gordon Wozniak in addition to endorsing against Measure J.  

But, noting that Richmond recently quit its chamber for reasons of conflict of interest, given that the Richmond Chamber endorsed candidates, Spring said she thinks Berkeley is in a similar position. Its Office of Economic Development, the Police Department and the Fire Department are listed as Berkeley Chamber members. She will bring the issue to the council Dec. 12. 

Jesse Arreguin, rent board commissioner active in the Worthington re-election campaign, says he will go to the state, since the local Fair Political Campaign Practices Commission ruled Nov. 16 that, while a Chamber of Commerce PAC omission of sender identification on a campaign mailer was a violation, it was a simple mistake.  

“The local FCPC wasn’t willing to enforce the law,” Arreguin said, adding that he and others will consult an attorney who specializes in campaign law to help write the complaint. 

“I’m very disappointed with the local commission’s action,” he said. “They were not willing to investigate the issue of willful intent. I hope the state will be more diligent.”