Public Comment

New: Berkeley Fair Campaign Practices Commission to Act on Most Egregious Violations of Local Election Laws

By Alejandro Soto-Vigil
Thursday May 16, 2013 - 01:17:00 PM

Berkeley Tenants United for Fairness”, a pro-landlord slate, has admitted numerous violations of state and local campaign finance laws The violations committed by TUFF are some of the most egregious in Berkeley history and could pave the way for other violations in the future, and undermine the letter and spirit of Berkeley’s voter approved Election Reform Act. 

Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission, charged with enforcing the city’s voter approved Election Reform Act, will be acting on a complaint Thursday night against “Berkeley Tenants United for Fairness” a slate mailer organization (SMO) created in the 2012 election, who has admitted numerous violations of state and local campaign finance and disclosure laws.  

TUFF’s use of a Slate Mailer Organization (SMO) to circumvent local election laws has raised the concern of the Berkeley Fair Campaign Practices Commission who will also be looking into establishing local rules to regulate SMOs. 

In response to a complaint filed, the City Attorney’s office is recommending that the commission approve a stipulation with TUFF that admits guilt for a wide range of state and local campaign violations in exchange for paying $4,000 in penalties. According to estimates by City staff, potential penalties for the violations committed by TUFF would normally result in tens of thousands of dollars in fines. 

Berkeley Tenants United for Fairness is a slate mailer organization created last fall to support four candidates for the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board: Jay James, Judy Hunt, Nicole Drake and Kiran Shenoy. Jay James was named as an officer of the committee and all four candidates had control over the content of mailers sent out, according to campaign filings. 

While misleadingly calling themselves “Tenants” United for Fairness, in fact the four person slate included a landlord (Judy Hunt) and a rent-stabilized tenant (Jay James) who also owns a 20% interest in a real estate LLC. All four candidates were supported by Berkeley Property Owners Association President Sid Lakireddy and landlord and real estate interests. Mr. Lakireddy also fundraised for TUFF and campaigned for all four candidates. These candidates campaigned on a platform which would have undermined Berkeley’s voter approved Rent Stabilization Ordinance, and hurt thousands of renters in Berkeley. 

TUFF received more than $50,000 in contributions from large property owners and corporate interests. However in the process of accepting contributions, it broke several laws. According to investigative reports, the role of candidate Jay James as an officer of the SMO made it a candidate committee, and therefore subject to local laws, including the city contribution limit of $250 per candidate and prohibitions on business contributions. Yet TUFF accepted thousands of dollars in donations and money from businesses. 

City staff, in a draft stipulation prepared for the Commission’s review, agreed that TUFF “accepted contributions from prohibited business sources …which were used for the benefit of the four candidates.” 

In the stipulation, City staff also notes the four TUFF candidates violated the letter and spirit of the Berkeley Election Reform Act namely “receipts and expenditures in municipal election campaigns should be fully and truthfully disclosed in order that the voters may be fully informed and improper practices may be inhibited.” The candidates disclosed contributions received through the TUFF SMO as much as two months after the filing deadline. 

What: Berkeley Fair Campaign Practices Commission vote on complaint against Tenants United for Fairness 

Where: North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Avenue, Classroom C, Berkeley 

When: Thursday, May 16, 2013, 7:00 pm