Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission decided that Jesse Arreguín violated 18 campaign finance laws when he ran for mayor in 2016 and has directed the commission’s secretary to enter into a negotiated settlement with him.
But, since Arreguín acknowledged that violations occurred and promised to take steps to avoid them in the future, the commission recommended at a meeting Thursday night that his mayoral campaign committee only be fined from $1,000 to $3,388, according to Matthai Chakko, a city spokesman. The FCPC had the authority to issue penalties up to $18,000.
The violations of state law and Berkeley Election Reform Act (BERA) happened when Arreguín’s campaign manager and treasurer, Jacquelyn McCormick, used her personal credit card 18 times to pay a total of $3,339.66 for various campaign expenses, including for yard signs, phone services, pastries, water, printing and supplies. The campaign did not have its own ATM card and was sometimes short of cash, so McCormick found it easier to pay with her own credit card, she told the commission in a letter.
McCormick was not reimbursed within 45 days, as state law requires. She was only reimbursed by the campaign many months later.
Under state law, that time lag meant McCormick’s expense payments were converted into contributions. Berkeley election law (BERA) only permits individuals to contribute $250 to campaigns, so the amount above that which McCormick donated violated BERA, according to the commission.
Arreguín has accepted responsibility for the violations and said the mistakes were inadvertent. He also pointed out that the mistakes were minor and did not cause any public harm. He told the FCPC in November that he disagreed with its assessment that his campaign violated the law 18 times. Instead, his campaign made one mistake and repeated it 18 times, he said.
In a letter he read out loud on Thursday, Arreguín also questioned the authority of the FCPC to “enforce the 45-day vendor rule” and levy fines against him. FCPC rules state that “the extension of credit” becomes a non-monetary contribution, but only when it involves “goods and services.” Arreguín said that McCormick did not provide goods and services but bought supplies, so the law should not apply.
Arreguín said that the rules governing reimbursement are state, not Berkeley law, and thus should not be enforced by the FCPC. “The conclusion that my campaign committed 18 violations of the law therefore does not seem supportable,” he said.
Deputy City Attorney Savith Iyengar told the commissioners that he did not agree with that assessment and that the commission had authority over the campaign violations.
Arreguín told the FCPC that this matter has highlighted for him just how complex election laws are. He told the commissioners that he intends to hire a professional campaign treasurer for his re-election campaign rather than rely on a volunteer like McCormick.
Arreguín asked to only pay a $500 fine, but the FCPC has decided that it will be at least $1,000, said Chakko. The timing of the negotiated settlement is pending.
The commission voted 4-0 with one abstention, to ask the FCPC secretary to reach a negotiated settlement with Arreguín. Commissioners Emma Soichet, Mark McLean, Patrick O’Donnell and Daniel Saver voted in favor, while Brad Smith abstained. Dean Metzger, Greg Harper and Brian Tsui all had excused absences and were not at the meeting, said Chakko.
The FCPC first considered the charges in November and voted Nov. 17 that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that Arreguín had violated BERA.