FCPC looks into alleged violations by Yes on S supporters

Members of the Fair Campaign Practices Commission review material before their Oct. 25 meeting. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Members of the Fair Campaign Practices Commission review material before their Oct. 25 meeting. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The Fair Campaign Practices Commission has decided to investigate whether any campaign laws were broken when the Yes on Measure S campaign paid people from $50 to $100 in cash to pass out campaign material on election day.

The commission also wants staff to look into whether the Yes on S campaign paid for an extra printing of endorsement fliers put out by the Berkeley Democratic Club without declaring its participation.

The decision to investigate came as the commission considered another complaint on Sept. 19 filed by Patricia Wall, executive director of the Homeless Action Center, and Bob Offer-Westort, the coordinator of the No on Measure S campaign. Measure S, which was defeated in November 2012, would have made it illegal to sit on sidewalks in commercial districts for much of the day.

In the original complaint, Wall and Offer-Westort charged the Berkeley Democratic Club with violating campaign laws because it filed contribution and expenditure reports with the California Secretary of State’s office rather than with the Berkeley City Clerk’s Office.

Kristy Van Herick, the commission’s staff attorney, concluded after an investigation that the Berkeley Democratic Club had not violated any campaign laws since in 2010 it designated itself a “State General Purpose Committee.” That meant it did not have to file reports with Berkeley, according to the staff report. It only had to file reports with the state.

The FCPC decided it wanted more information on the matter before accepting the staff interpretation. The commission will reconsider the matter at its November meeting.

“This area of regulation is a bit complicated,” said Van Herick.

The November 2012 election is long over, but its repercussions are still being felt, particularly at FCPC meetings. Berkeley’s progressive forces, which include those involved in the No on Measure S and No on Measure T campaigns, and in favor of the Progressive Affordable Housing Slate for the Rent Board, have filed three complaints against their political rivals in the past 11 months:

  • In October 2012, Zelda Bronstein (who was just appointed by Jesse Arreguin as an FCPC commissioner) filed a complaint charging that the Yes on Measure T campaign had fraudulently printed that it had backing from an SEIU local when in fact it did not. The commission decided not to consider the matter because it fell out of its jurisdiction.
  • In October, former mayor Shirley Dean filed a complaint with the FCPC stating that City Council member Laurie Capitelli, who was running for reelection, violated state campaign laws by mailing out a picture of himself standing next to his son, who is dressed in his police officer’s uniform. State law, Dean alleged, prohibits any peace officer from participating in political activities while in uniform. The FCPC also dismissed that complaint because it did not fall under its jurisdiction.
  • In May, the FCPC levied its heaviest fines ever against a landlord-backed group that sent out slate mailers in favor of a slate of rent board candidates called TUFF. The FCPC determined that the Slate Mailer Organization (SMO), its treasurer Rita Copeland, James Jay, an officer and rent board candidate, two of its donors, and Sid Lakireddy, the president of Berkeley Property Owners’ Association, violated Berkeley’s Election Reform Act in the way they administered the SMO and distributed its funds. The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) the state agency that monitors election law, sent a warning letter to the East Bay Rental Housing Association PAC for its failure to report to Berkeley that it contributed $12,000 to the TUFF slate.
  • In another election-related battle, Sid Lakireddy, president of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, is suing four members of the Progressive Affordable Housing Slate for libel for sending out an email in October associating him with a sexual slavery ring operated by his uncle Lakireddy Bali Reddy. That case is still pending.

The latest complaint was filed against the Berkeley Democratic Club, which was founded in 1934 and has consistently backed moderate Berkeley candidates like Mayor Tom Bates, State Senator Loni Hancock, City Council members Darryl Moore, Laurie Capitelli, and Susan Wengraf. The club also backed Measure S. In 2012, the BDC Political Action Committee spent $26,781 to print voter guides endorsing Bates, Moore, Capitelli, Wengraf, and others, according to Wall. They flyers said the recommendations were the “official endorsements of the Democratic Party,” even though they were not, according to Wall.

The single largest contributor to the BDC was the Yes on S campaign, according to filings. It gave $4,500 to the BDC, according to reports filed with the state.

The FCPC wants to know more about the expenditures made by the Yes on Measure S campaign, particularly one made on Nov 2. On that day, the Yes on S campaign paid Autumn Press $1,692.45 to print up an additional 10,000 voter guides put together by the BDC, according to a letter sent to the FCPC by John Caner, the director of the Downtown Berkeley Business Improvement District who was deeply involved with both the BDC and Yes on Measure S campaign.

Even though the Yes on Measure S campaign paid for the flyers, it did not reveal that on the voting cards. That may be a violation of Berkeley election laws, said Van Herick. That is one point she will be investigating.

Caner also lent $5,530 to the Yes on S campaign to hire people on election day to pass out the BDC voter guides. In an email to the FCPC, Caner said that the committee hired 52 people to pass out literature and paid them from $50 to $100 in cash for their work.

Many of the poll workers were homeless people recruited from churches, labor unions and the Options Recovery Service, according to the “No on S” campaign. [Update, Jan. 16, 2014: According to the “Yes on S” campaign, no homeless people were hired to do this work.]

The “Yes on S” campaign committee paid the workers in cash because “may of the workers do not have bank accounts and it would be difficult for them to cash the checks,” Caner wrote.

Both state and local election laws require campaign committees to pay poll workers with checks or credit cards so the funds can be traced, said Van Herick. She will also be looking into whether the Yes on S committee violated the law in making these payments.

Caner said he reported $5,000 of the loan, but not an additional $530, which happened after more people than expected showed up to work.

Caner wrote in his email to the FCPC that the Yes on Measure S committee may have inadvertently made mistakes in filing reports about its expenditures, and promised to work closely with the FCPC to remedy any violations.

“We want to do … whatever is necessary to correct the situation,” wrote Caner.

Wall and other homeless advocates expressed outrage that the Yes on Measure S group would hire homeless people to pass out literature supporting a law that would be to their detriment.

“Hiring the homeless clients of a recovery program to campaign for their own criminalization is the opposite of harm reduction. Berkeley’s vulnerable populations deserve better,” Wall said in a press release.

[Editor’s Note, Jan. 16, 2014: According to “Yes on S” campaign manager John Caner, no one who was hired to pass out campaign literature was homeless at that time, or had ever been homeless.]

Sid Lakireddy sues rent board candidates for libel (05.30.13)
Landlord-backed group fined for campaign violations (05.20.13)
Commission to consider alleged campaign violations (12.13.12)
Commission won’t review veracity of campaign literature (10.26.12)

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  • The_Sharkey

    Berkeley’s progressive forces, which include those involved in the No on Measure S and No on Measure T campaigns…

    I wouldn’t call those groups “progressive” so much as “happy with the status quo” and “afraid of change.

    Wall and other homeless advocates expressed outrage that the Yes on
    Measure S group would hire homeless people to pass out literature
    supporting a law that would be to their detriment.

    “Hiring the homeless clients of a recovery program to campaign for
    their own criminalization is the opposite of harm reduction. Berkeley’s
    vulnerable populations deserve better,” Wall said in a press release.

    Why not let the homeless individuals in question make their own decisions for themselves instead of treating them like animals or children who are incapable of understanding the possible repercussions of their own actions?

  • Rob Wrenn

    It appears that the Yes on S campaign did not have much grassroots support if they had to pay people $100 to pass out the BDC slate cards on Election Day. Normally campaigns in Berkeley rely on campaign supporters to do this kind of work on a volunteer basis. The people who filed the complaint with the FCPC report that they talked to some of the people who were hired for $100 and that those people were told they would be working for Obama or the Democratic Party and were not told that they would be working for the anti-sitting measure. Shouldn’t these people have been given accurate information about who they were working for, what group was paying them the $100 cash? It’s good that the FCPC is going to investigate these payments.

    Nearly everyone in Berkeley was for Obama; 90% voted for him. A major purpose of the slate cards of the different Democratic clubs is to persuade any voters who may still be undecided about, or have not given a lot of thought to, candidates and measures further down the ballot. But paying over $5000 for distribution of BDC slate cards on Election Day apparently didn’t have a major impact on voters’ opinions about Measure S as 57.5% of those who voted on Election Day, rather than by absentee ballot, voted against Measure S.

    It’s interesting that the BDC PAC is now a “State General Purpose Committee” rather than a local Berkeley committee. The City’s Web site reports contributions and expenditures by local campaigns for candidates and measures, but to find out about a state committee you would have to go to the California Secretary of State’s Web site.

  • guest

    It’s a question in dispute whether BDC’s registration with the state actually relieves it of the duty file in Berkeley. State law allows municipalities to impose additional filing requirements for State General Purpose Committees. The preliminary staff analysis seems to be confused about this. Additionally the petitioners argue that, regardless, BDC is not a bona fide state committee.

    Also the allegations that some of the employees were misled (and were angry about it, once they knew) are an interesting part of the complaint. I was disappointed that Berkeleyside chose not to report on that. By omitting that detail they have taken Wall’s statement out of essential context.

  • The_Sharkey

    Attacking a group for paying the homeless seems like a really weird way to defend the homeless, and a 57% vote for the status quo isn’t really what I’d call an overwhelming victory.

    I wonder, while we’re complaining about people playing dirty politics, do you have any comment on the way individuals representing the “Save West Berkeley” campaign you spearheaded defaced or destroyed the majority of the signs put up by your opponents?


  • guest

    And oh by the way, it’s quite well known that Arreguin’s and Worthington’s folks paid a busload of excons to come up to Berkeley to gather signatures for the Downtown Area Plan referendum. I know because two of them told me so when I, as a volunteer, was handing out pro-DAP literature in front of Andronico’s. Hmmm.

  • AnthonySanchez

    Not to be a stickler, but your comparing activities that are clearly associated with a group with activities that could be associated with a group, but than cannot be proven one way or the other.

    Campaign signs are destroyed and vandalized all the time on all sides, often with no official affiliation (it doesn’t make sense for a campaign to open itself to scandal for very very very little benefit). It is also common practice for one campaign to allege that the vandalism was caused by the other campaign, despite no proof, nor the ability of the accused to disprove the allegation.

  • Rob Wrenn

    Sharkey, you’re missing the main point here. According to the complaint, the people who were paid $100 in cash were not told that they were being hired by the Yes on S campaign. At least some were improperly paid the $100 in cash which is a violation of local campaign laws. The slate cards they passed out incorrectly say on them that they were “Paid for by the Berkeley Democratic Club”. In fact, as the above article notes, Yes on S paid for 10,000 more of the BDC slate cards, so they should have said paid for by Yes on S campaign. This is in itself interesting. Why didn’t they put out a final card devoted to Measure S and the reasons why people should vote yes on S? Did all Yes on S supporters back all the BDC positions? I would guess they went with the BDC slate card in hopes that they could link Yes on S to voting for Obama. As it happens, I think that Measure S had gotten so much coverage, and been the subject of so much discussion, that a large majority of voters, including election day voters, had already decided how to vote on S and weren’t going to be influenced by a slate card.

    By the way, I think the people who ran the No on T campaign would be surprised to learn that I “spearheaded” that campaign. Also the alleged violations that FCPC will be investigating pertain to the actions of people, like John Caner, who were involved in running the Yes on S campaign. Destruction of signs is almost always the work of individual zealots not candidates or their campaign managers. Candidates I’ve worked for have typically told supporters not to mess with opponent’s signs. The emphasis is on getting your campaign’s signs up.

  • guest

    And to let you know, yes, a couple of them did say exactly that. So you deny it, then admit it, but only maybe. Which is it?
    [This comment has been moderated. –Eds.]

  • The_Sharkey

    Now that you mention it, I find it really weird that homeless advocates are championing a law that says that payments can’t be made in cash. Sure seems awful discriminatory against homeless people who usually don’t have bank accounts to deposit checks into.

    I agree with a lot of your other comments. By the time election day rolled around enough false information and general misdirection had been spread around that election-day flyers weren’t going to do any good no matter how nefariously they were handled.

    Spearheaded was a poor choice of wording, but you were certainly quite active in the discussion here. Why not just go on record decrying the defacement of signs by No on T supporters and denouncing whoever did it? I found it very disappointing that the No on T supporters completely ignored and tried to downplay the problem rather than denouncing it.

  • AnthonySanchez

    I invite you to copy and paste my comments above to support your contention. You are purposely oversimplifying my statements as a means of mischaracterization, when I, in FACT, challenged the modality of your allegations, not outright deny ANY hires of “ex-cons.” For example, your allegation read as a targeted hiring consisting primarily or entirely of “ex-cons.” My response: :”not entirely sure,” which is a polite way of saying, that is NOT true and is an operative phrase that allows for the fact that SOME “ex-cons” were hired (I am relying on your information for that to be true) but disallows your contention of proportionality.

    Then you claim I somehow “admitted” that our campaign did target hires that were all or nearly all “ex-cons.” I, in FACT, never admitted that “ex-cons” were ever indeed hired (again, I invite you to highlight the explicit phrasing that supports an admission).

    Yes, I cede, for the sake of argumentation, that it is POSSIBLE that some “ex-cons” were hired, just as it is possible that some left-handers were hired. However, neither your nor I can confirm a high proportion, so this belongs in the realm of unprovable allegation by yet another anonymous source. However, I CAN attest that the campaign did not target such hires, that it is unlikely that such hires were made to the extent you claim, and it doesn’t logically follow why anyone would target such hires -their “ex-con” status is irrelevant to their suitability to gather signatures.

    In sum, I 1) denied the modality of your allegation, 2) never admitted any such hiring, and 3) ceded that the hiring of SOME “ex-cons” is possible, but only to continue, and compatibly, reject your characterization of some type of intentional or in effect hiring a high proportion of “ex-cons,” as you allege.

    I am done wasting my time providing remedial explanations. I stand by my words with my name, face, and intellectual honesty.

  • AnthonySanchez

    Cash is not traceable. In a regulatory scheme whose purpose is to ensure transparency and prevent corruption and abuse in campaigns, cash expenditures cannot be tolerated as they cannot be truly audited.

    Given that, I don’t think the characterization of “homeless advocates… championing a law that says that payments can’t be made in cash” is correct, as there would more than just “homeless advocates” opposing such cash payments, regardless of a recipient’s housing status.

  • AnthonySanchez

    1. I never said or insinuated that Yes on T destroyed their own signs. I didn’t.

    However, I will say that I re-read my comment and I can see how you thought that, so I hope you will believe me when I say that is not what I meant and it was irrelevant to my point.

    2. My point was that you’re comparing activities that are indisputably associated with a few campaigns with activities that are unprovable, disprovable, and unlikely associated with any campaign.

    3. I cannot more logically point our that there is just as high of motivation to NOT mess with campaign signs (again, high risk, no reward) as there is for a campaign to ascribe the vandalism of their signs to the opposing side (an extremely easy and cheap trick a la Rove who “bugged” Bush’s campaign offices and blamed it on the opposing gubernatorial campaign).

    4. If people really buy into the low-level conversation of official organized campaign sign vandalism, it’s enough to make me want NO signs in campaigns -they’re a visual blight in medians and allow unscrupulous campaigns to make CHEAP allegations just like in 2012. I’d be happy to take that nonsense away from an opposing side and stop this stupid conversation (by the way, there actually was an organized campaign against our campaign signs in 2010, but we didn’t cry and make allegations. In fact, we didn’t care since we had the confidence of our campaign and ideas and did not need to use the issue as a crutch: http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2010-11-10/article/36724?headline=NIMBY-Robot-and-Measure-R–By-Morning-Shu)

  • Elisa Della-Piana

    I can’t believe I am going to say this, but I agree with you on one point, the Sharkey! Why not let people make decisions for themselves? That’s exactly the problem with what Caner and Yes on S did on Election Day: they told the people they hired that they were campaigning for Obama (y’know, because Obama needed to pay for support in Berkeley). Not a word about Yes on S. When the campaigners found out what they were really campaigning for, and realized it was a measure that would directly affect them and people they cared about, they were horrified.

    Paid to distribute false literature and lied to about it. Not the cleanest politics, whatever your political leaning.

  • The_Sharkey

    I don’t condone lying, but so far that’s what Caner is alleged to have done. No one has proved it was done yet.

    Let’s also not forget that a great deal of homeless individuals are literate. No matter what they were told, they could have easily read the flyers for themselves.

  • The_Sharkey

    Good comments, Anthony. I disagree that there is any motivation at all not to mess with signs, but agree on a lot of the rest.

    I think it’s high time Berkeley considered banning the posting of campaign signs on median strips. They’re distracting to drivers and create opportunities for vandalism. Banning them from public property and restricting them to places like private yards/windows and light posts would solve both problems.

  • The_Sharkey

    Ok, is this better?

    In this specific case, homeless advocates are the ones championing an anti-homeless law that says that payments can’t be made in cash.

    I understand the reasoning behind disallowing cash payments, but the practice clearly discriminates against the homeless and the poor who are less likely to have bank accounts.

  • guest

    Ah, cash election payments! Makes me dream of my old Kentucky home! http://www.kentucky.com/2010/03/26/1197075/jury-convicts-all-8-defendants.html

  • sam g

    Its untrue to claim that only Yes on T had signs removed. ALL of the No on T signs were torn down on the Sacto meridian—and I complained about in the comments section of this rag at the time…Your memory is ver selective.

  • AnthonySanchez

    I am all with you on the median issue. Strangely, it is already against the law, but it is not really enforced other than a polite letter from the city asking for removal or face fines that it has never levied to my knowledge. Maybe that is something we can fix, particularly given my self interest in preempting the other side from trying to wage a cheap sign destruction and distraction war.

    Yes, there is motivation to mess with signs, but not so much by campaigns. Again, you have to reconcile the fact that there is no real reward and that there is too high of a risk of bad press -no rational campaign would ever be involved. It is almost always rogue individuals who are overzealous -even when they’re specifically told to not create the headache that is opposition sign vandalism.

  • AnthonySanchez

    Competing interests are always at play in public policy. Do you care to come up with a workable/practical fix that will balance and preserve both interests? Or is your label of “anti-homeless” one of convenience?

  • The_Sharkey

    I didn’t claim that only the Yest on T signs were removed. There were campaign signs removed from most campaigns, but the vandalism done by people who supported the No on T campaign was most noticeable because they defaced the signs and put them back up rather than just tearing them down.

  • The_Sharkey

    Sorry if you don’t enjoy the way I’m pointing out the hypocrisy in the arguments of the homeless advocates here, but it’s not my job to figure out how to solve this problem. I’ll leave it for the public policy wonks to figure out.

  • AnthonySanchez

    The problem is that you’ve constructed a hypocritical situation that seemingly exists, but in reality does not. If one wanted, one can find “hypocrisy” in almost anything, but it doesn’t make it so (and oversimplifies the complexities of multi-value systems and their hierarchies).

    If we are to assume there is indeed a true inconsistency, then we must assume that homeless advocates must ALWAYS policies that favor homeless individuals to the detriment of ANY other value. Or in this case, that a rare instance of one-time campaign cash payment to a homeless individual is more important than election accountability laws. But such an assumption of an absolute value is absurd and we rarely recognize values as absolute.

  • Joanna

    I sense other issues are at play regarding the challenge to the Berkeley Democratic Club’s printing and distribution of Election Day Voter Guides/slate cards with the Fair Campaign Practices Commission. It is particularly striking that nearly a year has lapsed before reaching the public forum?

    I believe there is a thread here that needs to be wound back (or perhaps pulled?) connecting the
    following items and the FCPC complaint. The first three were reported in Berkeleyside.

    1) Sept. 11, 2013 “Berkeley considers ‘visionary’homeless housing project” E. Raguso 9/11/2013
    2) Sept. 5, 2013 “City to consider new approach to emergency shelters” E. Raguso 9/5/2013
    3) Oct. 31, 2012 “Measure S: Will it help or hurt the homeless?” E. Raguso 10/31/2012

    The other item, easily sourced via the KQED website, is a pre-election 2012 program on “Forum”
    with Michael Krasny having Elisa Della-Piana (Atty. East Bay Community Law Ctr.) and Davida Coady (M.D. Options Recovery Services) discuss pro/con of Measure S http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201210050900 dated Friday, October 5, 2012.

    I agree with the sentiment expressed in the comments that it is interesting to see how the forces have aligned. I sense the untold story behind the seemingly odd alignments is consistent with never
    ending inter-agency philosophical/turf/piece-of-the-budget battles. It seems that several homeless advocates and agencies have determined that by joining forces, at least superficially, and advocating for the construction of a new service center they will survive.

    Is the general public aware that the city owned building at 1931 Center Street, commonly referred to as the Veterans Memorial Building, is the operation center for the Berkeley Food + Housing Project Men’s Overnight Shelter and Veteran’s Shelter, the BOSS(Self-Sufficiency.org)Multi-Agency Service Center and the Options Recovery Services drug/alcohol/mental health programs. I believe all of these agencies have other service centers, administrative sites and housing/shelter locations. Local veteran’s agencies rightly use the building for meetings and the Berkeley Historical Society operates from a corner of the building. This building is seismically unsafe. In the past, did the city set ever aside funds for these seismic improvements?

    After all, how was it determined that Berkeley Food and Housing Project would take the lead in developing the proposed “visionary” service center?

    Lots of questions, not a lot of daylight.

  • John Panzer

    Options Recovery Services? Dr. Coady’s Options Recovery Services?