Chamber PAC Fights Filing with City

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday December 04, 2007

Claiming its intent is to support future state and county candidates—though it has scarcely done so in the past—Business for Better Government, the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee, has hired a San Francisco law firm to go to bat for the Chamber PAC’s right to continue filing campaign finance statements with Alameda County rather than the city of Berkeley. 

A May 30 letter from Deputy City Attorney Kristy van Herick to the California Fair Political Practices Commission says that given that the Chamber PAC has contributed exclusively to Berkeley candidates—with just one exception—she believes that the chamber PAC is required to file its campaign contribution statements in Berkeley 

The state agreed with van Herick. An Aug. 15 response signed by FPPC General Counsel Scott Hallibrin states that in a five-year period the Chamber PAC had spent just 0.4 percent of its campaign funds on a race outside Berkeley.  

“…the single $500 contribution the PAC [out of about $126,000 over five years] made to a non-city candidate should be deemed de minimis and the PAC (at this point) should be deemed a ‘city general purpose committee,’” the letter says. 

Whether a committee records its contributions in Berkeley or in Alameda County makes a significant difference for Berkeley voters, Stephen Bedrick, a Fair Campaign Practices Commission member, told the Planet in an interview Monday.  

When the statements are filed locally, “It’s easier for Berkeley voters to find the information—the Berkeley City Clerk puts the information online,” he said. The county puts contribution reports online only when the filing party uses particular software to record contributions. 

“The point of filing is so voters can see who is contributing to what measures or candidates,” he said.  

A Nov. 14 response to the FPPC, written by Melissa A. Mikesell of the Sutton Law Firm, argues that the FPPC did not take into account the Chamber PAC’s “intended future activities, in reaching this determination” and that making a decision based only on where contributions were spent “is only one factor in determining whether a general purpose committee should file as a county or city committee.” 

Mikesell’s letter argues that courts have ruled that committees should file in the highest jurisdiction “in which they intend to be regularly active, even if some or all of the committee’s past activity is in a different jurisdiction.” 

Mikesell further contends that the Chamber PAC’s other county-focused activities should be taken into consideration, such as monitoring county politics and legislation for its impact on Berkeley business. 

PAC chair Miriam Ng did not return calls from the Planet. 

Chamber Executive Director Ted Garrett, new to the post and to Berkeley, said, while the chamber and the PAC are separate and make separate decisions, he wants to “make sure we’re always doing the right thing.” 

“I’d be disappointed if the PAC were to do something [different from what] I’m trying to do at the Chamber,” he said. 

“I’m reviewing everything,” he added. “If there’s a Chamber PAC, it has to blend well with the Chamber.”