Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission declined Thursday night to take up the question of whether the Yes on Measure T campaign had fraudulently stated on mailers that SEIU Local 1021 endorsed the measure when in fact it had not.
The commission voted unanimously not to consider the matter because it fell outside of its legal jurisdiction, which is monitoring campaign spending, not the veracity of campaign ads.
“Although there have been many issues raised today on this whole process, this is a not an election committee,” said Commissioner Patrick O’Donnell. “It has no jurisdiction over process. It can only bring to light and make public how finances are used.”
Zelda Bronstein, a former planning commissioner who is active in the No on Measure T campaign, said even though the commission could not take up the substance of the complaints she filed on Oct. 17, she was glad she had brought the issue to the public’s attention.
“There’s a lot of value in exposure, “ said Bronstein after the meeting.
The commission’s decision came after it listened to about a half hour of testimony from various sides.
In early October, the Coalition for a Sustainable West Berkeley (the Yes on T campaign) sent out two mailers stating that SEIU Local 1021 had endorsed the measure. After looking at the union’s website, which stated its opposition to Measure T, Bronstein filed a complaint with the FCPC. She also objected to the fact that the mailer said it had the approval of the Telegraph Avenue Business Improvement District. As a city entity, the BID is prohibited from endorsing in campaigns, Bronstein contended.
Roland Peterson, the executive director of the BID told the commission that it was another entity, the Telegraph Avenue Property and Business Management Corporation, a non-profit, that actually endorsed Measure T. That group is legally allowed to make endorsements, he said. The people putting together the Measure T mailer used the wrong name by mistake, he said.
Darrel De Tienne, the treasurer of the Yes on T campaign, provided the commission with a long chronology of how his group had meet with Berkeley members of SEIU and thought it had gotten the union’s endorsement, which is why the union logo appeared on the mailers. He only later learned that the Berkeley chapter could not make its own endorsements, but had to abide by endorsement decisions made out of the Oakland office.
Peter Albert, the co-chair of SEIU’s political committee, said he had actually met with Berkeley locals in early September and they had recommended opposition to T. He said it was clear that some other members of the Berkeley chapter, those who met with de Tienne and offered support for Measure T, did not understand the decision-making process for union endorsements.
Some of the commissioners were critical that de Tienne’s group mailed out another flyer with the union logo on it even after they found out that endorsement was a mistake. De Tienne said it was too late to pull back the mailer.
“What’s going to prevent something like this from happening in the future,” said Commissioner Al Murray. “I can see this happening again and what can we do? What can the public do?”
The chair of the commission, Steve Wollmer, said perhaps the group should approach city council about expanding the Berkeley Election Reform Act to make it possible for the commission to look at subjects broader than just campaign finance.
Bronstein has filed a third complaint against the Yes on T campaign, charging that they did not submit a copy of their mailers in a timely fashion to the city clerk’s office, as required by the Berkeley Election Reform Act. The commission will take up that matter next week.
Measure T supporters mail false flyer, critics contend [10.19.12]
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