New: Berkeley's Fair Campaign Practices Commission Meets Tonight To Consider Light Penalties for Flagrant Election Law Evaders (News Analysis)

By Dave Blake and Dean Metzger
Thursday May 16, 2013 - 01:08:00 PM

Tonight the Fair Campaign Practices Commission meets (7 pm, N Berkeley Senior Center) to consider the stipulation offered by members of Tenants United for Fairness (TUFF)—a slate that ran for Berkeley’s Rent Stabilization Board in the November election—and the landlords who illegally funded their campaign. 

The proposed stipulation would fine the TUFF slate members $300 each, and their backers under $3000 total. 

In comparison, at the same meeting the people who raised money to defeat the street-sitting prohibiting Measure S and who failed to properly report $500 in late contributions in a timely manner are proposed to pay a penalty of that amount—$500, the amount they received. Nothing illegal about the contributions, they're just paying the amount of the contribution for failing to report it on time. 

TUFF raised and spent over $50,000 from landlords, over $30,000 from one PAC alone. Berkeley has a $250 per candidate donation limit and bars business donations, the vast bulk of those donations. Councilmember Maio's appointee to the Commission, Brad Smith, when first introduced to the violations, said they were flagrant and unconscionable, then at the next meeting urged the commission not to investigate the complaint at all, saying they were "just kids who didn't know what they were doing." TUFF was endorsed by five councilmembers including Maio, and put out illegal joint literature with two of them. 

When an audience member asked him to defend his objectivity in light of the fact that TUFF’s lead candidate, then Rent Board member Nicole Drake, has the exact same job he’d held for over a decade, serving Maio as her sole aide, Smith explained that he'd had lunch with Linda to explain to her that she wasn't to discuss the issue with him, to maintain his objectivity. 

At that meeting the Commission decided not to investigate, and to instruct their staff to negotiate with the TUFF members and their backers over what their punishment should be, leading to this proposed stipulation. 

Berkley election law specifically says that the Commission should consider fining candidates who accept illegal contributions the amount of contributions they illegally accepted, in this case over $40,000. Not only will accepting this stipulation mean that the candidates pay a pittance for their violations, but it will also mean that the candidate they successfully got elected to the Board with a campaign funded over 90% by illegal donations will remain in office, rather than be forced to resign in accordance with the law. 

The Commission meetings have been poorly attended, and completely uncovered by all the local mainstream media. For anyone who feels that the Commission should formally investigate what Commissioner Smith called the worst electoral crime in the history of Berkeley election law, this will be the last chance to appeal to the Commission's integrity. There is no appeal to the Council for FCPC cases. If the FCPC accepts the stipulation, the matter will be closed, unless the State’s comparable body decides to investigate.