Spring Agrees to Negotiate Campaign Violation

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday August 03, 2007

With a new treasurer, hi-tech computer software and a lesson in banking skills, Berkeley Councilmember Dona Spring pledged to do a better job of following campaign finance laws. 

Spring, who won her fifth term last year, is under investigation by the Berkeley Fair Campaign Practices Commission (FCPC) for possible violations by the Dona Spring for City Council Committee. 

“Ms. Spring had filed ten campaign statements over the last four years containing campaign cash balance information that she knew to be incorrect at the time she filed the statements,” said Assistant City Attorney Kristy Van Herick. “This is very serious.” 

In the recent past campaign violations have been committed by former Berkeley mayor Shirley Dean, mayoral candidate Don Jelinek and Rent Board commissioner Chris Kavanagh, Van Herick said. She added that it was possible that Spring’s violations could be resolved with a settlement if the FCPC agreed to it. 

“I would be happy to negotiate with the city attorney to resolve the matter to their satisfaction,” said Spring, who is working on an amendment to her 2006 campaign report, which had first caught the attention of the commission staff in February. 

“After Ms. Spring filed a timely post-election campaign statement on Jan. 31, 2007, we found a large deficit account balance of $6,144,” said Van Herick. “We also found some additional discrepancies going back a few years. Since then she has been to the commission three times and has been very cooperative.” 

At least 28 separate contributions of or exceeding $50 and a campaign loan were omitted from Spring’s campaign filings from the 2006 election season. 

Spring, who until last week was her own treasurer, explained that some of the contributors were omitted in part due to her work with the office services business Creative Office Solutions and a lack of updated computer software. 

“In the flurry of activities, some of the copies of the checks did not get to their office,” she said. “As a result some of the contributors did not make it into Form 460, the form used to file campaign finances. There were four reporting periods and they missed between seven to six contributors per reporting period. Only on looking at the summary later, I saw massive discrepancies between the expenditure and the contributions. I knew immediately that some amendments would have to be made.” 

Spring added that only 3 percent of the 2006 campaign report was left to be amended. 

“That’s less than $200,” she said. “It will be submitted by next week.”  

The FCPC ruled at their July 26 staff meeting that there was “probable cause” to think that Spring had committed violations. 

Commissioner Pat O’Donnell said that a hearing would be held on Sept. 19 to determine whether a violation had taken place. 

The only monetary fine that could be imposed on Spring would be for the failure to file a late contribution report. “If you receive $100 or more during the last 12 days of the elections, you are required to file a notice of the contribution with the city clerk,” said Van Herick. “Ms. Spring did not file one.” 

Late contributions totaling $450, from Norman La Force, an attorney for the Sierra Club and from SEIU Local 535, were not reported on Form 460. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said that Berkeley was more strict about campaign contributions than other cities. 

“Most places require you to report contributions of $100 or above,” he said. “But for Berkeley it’s $50.” 

Worthington added that going through the campaign paperwork was very time consuming. 

“If someone hasn’t cashed a check it’s very hard to balance your bank statements with your campaign finance reports,” he said. “I am sure it was hard for Dona in particular since it takes a reasonable amount of time for her to get out of her bed every morning and get into her wheelchair. She’s an absolute tiger, the way she works hard to fix problems for her constituents.” 

Spring’s new treasurer is Zoning Adjustments Board member Sara Shumer. 

“Sara is just a terrific lady,” said Spring. “She will be getting help from planning commissioner Gene Poschman. Also, it really helps if you have the right software. From now on I will be using Adobe Professional and Quicken to fill up all the campaign forms. I will also correlate the expenditures on my form with my bank statements. Most importantly, I will never be my own treasurer again.”