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Questions on Berkeley Chamber Election Filing Go to State

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday June 26, 2007

The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce’s political action arm, Business for Better Government, files its campaign statements with the County of Alameda rather than the city. 

Deputy City Attorney Kristy van Herick wants to know why. 

“Based on an examination of the available Form 460 statements on file with Alameda County, it appears that the Berkeley Chamber PAC should be filing with the city of Berkeley instead of the county and therefore complying with the Berkeley Election Reform Act, including its more rigorous filing and disclosure requirements,” wrote van Herick in a May 30 request for advice to Scott Hallabrin, general council for the state Fair Political Practices Commission. 

Within a five-year period, the PAC contributed uniquely to Berkeley candidates and measures, with the exception of a $500 contribution to the Sandre Swanson for 16th District Assembly campaign.  

In 2006, the PAC spent around $100,000 to oppose council candidates Kriss Worthington and Dona Spring, to oppose the landmarks’ Measure J and to support Mayor Tom Bates. 

In 2004, it spent money opposing Berkeley’s Measure O (fair trade coffee) and in 2003-2004 spent funds on behalf of the Berkeley Committee for Fair Representation. In 2002, it contributed to the Berkeley Democratic Club and the local No on P campaign. 

“From my reading of the Political Reform Act, Government Code sections 81009.5 … and 84215 … the Berkeley Chamber PAC is legally required to file in Berkeley and comply with our local ordinance, the Berkeley Election Reform Act, if it is a general purpose committee ‘active’ only in Berkeley,” van Herick wrote, adding that she understands a committee to be active in Berkeley if it contributes only minimally to candidates in other jurisdictions. 

In her request for advice, van Herick asks the FPPC attorney whether the PAC should file in Berkeley and if so, asks: “If the Berkeley Chamber PAC should be a city general purpose committee [filing with the city], who has the authority to direct the committee to file an amended 410 and begin filing with the Berkeley City Clerk?” 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, whose opponent in the 2006 race was supported with thousands of Chamber PAC dollars, said he would like to know if the county reporting “was done to evade the stringent reporting requirements in Berkeley.” 

Berkeley’s local election ordinance limits contributions to candidates to $250. If developer Patrick Kennedy, for example, gave $250 directly to Bates’ mayoral campaign, then gives $5,000 to the PAC, if even $1 of his PAC money goes to Bates, he might be said to be subverting the law that limits contributions to $250 per candidate.  

By filing with the county and following its election laws, the Chamber PAC did not have to follow the $250 limit rule.  

Furthermore, individual contributions to committees that file with the county are not published in a local newspaper, as is required by the local election law. And they are published on the Internet only when the committee chooses to file in an electronic format, which the Chamber PAC does not do. In Berkeley, all contributions are posted on the Internet, generally the same day or the day after a candidate files the required campaign statement. 

The full Chamber PAC contribution information is available at the country registrar’s office. 

Furthermore, Berkeley does not allow corporate contributions, but by filing with the county, such donors as Wareham Development of San Rafael are permitted to give contributions. (Wareham, owner of the Fantasy Building at 10th and Parker streets and numerous other sites in West Berkeley, gave $10,000 to the PAC.) 

Miriam Ng, chair of the Chamber of Commerce PAC did not return calls seeking comment. Van Herick did not return calls to discuss the letter.