Chamber PAC Must File Retroactively

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday March 04, 2008

Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission decided Thursday that Business for Better Government, the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee, must file campaign contribution statements for 2004 and 2006 retroactively with the city.  

“It is the intent of the committee to file with Berkeley,” Commission Chair Eric Weaver told the Daily Planet Monday, adding that if it did not, the commission would get the filings from the county and ask the city clerk to post them on the city’s website. 

The PAC, which decided in January to dissolve itself, was originally formed as a city committee in 1998, but changed to a county committee in 2001 and has filed all of its campaign statements with the county since that time, despite the fact that over the past five years—the period when records are kept at the Alameda County Registrar of Voters—all of its campaign contributions were directed to city races, except one contribution given to a candidate for State Assembly. The PAC made no county contributions during that time. 

The California Fair Political Practices Commission advised the city that the Berkeley Chamber PAC should file locally. While this opinion was initially disputed by Chamber PAC attorneys, the PAC decided to abide by the state advice. 

At around the same time, the PAC decided to terminate itself. 

Termination has taken some time, as the PAC had a $5,000 debt—owed mostly to its attorneys—which it had to pay before dissolving itself. According to Assistant City Clerk Mark Numainville, the PAC was to have formally dissolved itself Monday or today (Tuesday).  

The Berkeley FCPC raised a more general question with its staff relative to independent committees. It wanted to know if it could amend Berkeley election laws to put limits on independent committees’ campaign expenditures.  

Individual donors face $250 limits for candidate expenditures, but committees have no spending limits. 

Deputy City Attorney Kristy van Herick answered the question in a written Feb. 28 report to the commission, saying the question is currently tied up in the Ninth Circuit Court. 

The case is the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce PAC v. City of San Jose, where a judge invalidated San Jose’s campaign ordinance, which limited to $250 an overall expenditure for a candidate for a particular office, whether the expenditure came through the individual or through an independent committee. 

”The Silicon Valley PAC used funds from contributors, some in excess of $250, to fund mailers and telephone messages referencing a mayoral candidate, and was found by the local election commission to have violated the ordinance,” van Herick wrote in a report to the commission.  

The court found, however, that the ordinance regulated “more speech than is necessary to advance the government interest of preventing corruption and the appearance thereof.” 

San Jose has appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit Court.