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Rent Board Slate Group Charged with Violating Berkeley Campaign Finance Laws (News Analysis)

By Rob Wrenn
Thursday October 25, 2012 - 03:47:00 PM

A slate mailer organization (SMO), Berkeley Tenants United For Fairness (TUFF), has used a major portion of the $25,000 in large contributions ostensibly given in opposition to Measure U, to finance two mailers largely devoted to support of the four rent board candidates on the TUFF slate that includes incumbent commissioner Nicole Drake. Berkeley law limits individual contributions to candidates to $250. 

A complaint was filed Thursday with Berkeley’s Fair Political Practices Commission by Planning Commissioner Patti Dacey. This complaint alleges several violations of state and local campaign finance laws. 

The complaint alleges that TUFF has violated California Government Code Section 82048.4, which prohibits SMOs from including candidates. 

A Statement of Organization, Form 400, filed with the City by TUFF, lists candidate Jay James as the SMO’s “Officer”. This appears to be a clear violation of the law. 

James, and the other three candidates on the TUFF slate, Nicole Drake, Judy Hunt, and Kiran Shenoy, are listed in the Form 400 as the “Individuals Who Authorize Contents of Slate Mailers”. The complaint says that the TUFF SMO “essentially functioned as a controlled committee for all 4 candidates”. 

The TUFF slate is opposing the Progressive Affordable Housing slate chosen by a convention of rent control supporters this summer. It includes incumbent commissioners Igor Tregub, Judy Shelton and Asa Dodsworth, along with Alejandro Soto-Vigil. 


Contributions from business entities 

The complaint says that TUFF is also violating Berkeley’s election law, the Berkeley Election Reform Act (BERA). BERA prohibits corporations, companies, firms, and other business entities from making campaign contributions to candidates, but the TUFF SMO reported contributions to support TUFF slate candidates from several business entities in its latest Form 401 filing of campaign contributions. (See table below) 

While BERA limits contributions to candidates to $250, there is no limit on how much can be given to support or oppose a ballot measure. 

TUFF has received $19,000 from the East Bay Rental Housing Association PAC. This money was given, according to TUFF’s latest filing, not to support rent board candidates but to oppose Measure U, the “Sunshine Initiative” that would create a new “Sunshine Commission”. 

This PAC also made separate contributions of $250 each to support the rent board candidates. 

Diablo Holdings, a property and asset management company with offices in Berkeley and Alamo, gave $5000 to oppose Measure U. Premium Property Management and Development, located on Telegraph in Oakland gave $1000, also to oppose Measure U. 

In total, $25,000 was raised to oppose Measure U. This amounts to 76% of the $32,920 that has been contributed to the TUFF SMO through October 20, according to the latest TUFF campaign statement, Form 401 filed with the City on Tuesday. 


How was TUFF SMO money spent? 

TUFF has spent $24,891. 92 through Oct. 20, over $21,000 of which was paid to Stearns Consulting in San Francisco. Stearns Consulting in turn spent almost $12,000 of this money to cover the cost of printing and mailing two mailers to voters. 

While 76% of TUFF funds were contributions to oppose Measure U, only 15% or less of the space in the two mailers is devoted to No on U. 

The first mailer is two-sided, 8 ½ by 11 in size. One side, below the address section, is devoted entirely to support of the TUFF rent board slate and criticism of the Rent Board; three quarters of the other side is also in support of the rent board candidates with only one quarter given over to opposing Measure U. 

The second mailer, also double-sided, but with a horizontal rather than a vertical format, also devotes an entire side to support of the rent board candidates and relegates Measure U to a thin strip across the bottom of the other side with 85% of the total space going to the Rent Board candidates even though contributions for their support to the TUFF SMO amount to only 24% of funds received. 

Patti Dacey’s complaint raises this issue, stating that businesses giving money to NO on U “are indirectly making contributions in support of candidates, by supporting a mailer that is primarily focused on supporting Drake, James, Shenoy and Hunt. The No on U statement is an afterthought.” 

Not allocating the space in the mailer proportionally based on the share of contributions that each candidate or measure received effectively allows the rent board candidates to benefit greatly from contributions that are not subject to the City’s $250 contribution limit and to its ban on contributions by business entities to candidates. 

This would set a dangerous precedent if allowed to stand. If business entities with deep pockets want to support a candidate for mayor or council, they could form a SMO to support that candidate and also a ballot measure. They could make very large contributions for the ballot measure and use the funds to produce mailers with only token space given to the ballot measure, and with the lion’s share of space going to promote the preferred candidate. This would obviously undermine Berkeley’s Election Reform Act. 

It would be even worse if candidates themselves could control the SMO supporting them as appears to be the case with the TUFF SMO. 

The complaint to the FPPC also notes that the mailers contain a notice (located near the return address) that says that “Appearance is paid for and authorized by each candidate and ballot measure which is designated by an*”. Yet Kiran Shenoy, with an asterix by his name, did not contribute to the SMO according to the TUFF campaign statements and the statement of his own campaign committee. 


Where is the Money Coming From? 

The vast majority, well over 90%, of the almost $33,000 raised to date by TUFF has come from landlords, or people who are part of property management or real estate firms. While in their second mailer, the TUFF slate claims to be the “tenants slate” that’s not where the money supporting their campaign is coming from. 


Contributions to TUFF SMO to Support Candidates Drake, Hunt, James and Shenoy 










David Arnold  

Property Mgt 







William Fingado  

Sea View Property Mgt 







Wayne Black Landlord  







Jeffrey Du Puy Landlord  







East Bay Rental Housing  

Association PAC 







Ellis Street Properties  







Lower Carlton Propeties  







Kathryn Snowden Parman  

Apartment owner 







Stuart Street Properties  







Claude Zamanian  

Real Estate 






David Meyers  

Property Mgt. 







Hamid Hashemi  

Security Engineers 







Stewart Johnston  

Johnston Medical 







Re-Elect Nicole Drake  







Com. to Elect Jay James  







Judy Hunt  

[her campaign committee] 













Source: compiled from Slate Mailer Organization Campaign Statements Received the City Clerk Dept., City of Berkeley, October 5 and October 23. Filings cover period through October 20, 2012 



Contributions to TUFF SMO to Oppose Measure U 



East Bay Rental Housing Association PAC  







Diablo Holdings  







Premium Property Mgt. and Development  













Source: compiled from Slate Mailer Organization Campaign Statements (California Form 401) received by the City Clerk Dept., City of Berkeley, October 5 and October 23. Filings cover period through October 20, 2012. Note that there were also small contributions of less than $100 to TUFF totaling $430. It’s not reported whether that money was donated to support candidates or oppose Measure U.