Press Release: Berkeley Fair Campaigns Practices Commission to Consider Investigation of Oldest Democratic Club in Berkeley for Multiple Campaign Violations

From Bob Offer-Westort and Patricia Wall
Wednesday September 18, 2013 - 07:35:00 AM

Berkeley Democratic Club accused of not filing expenditure disclosures with City for nearly three years and hiring homeless clients of recovery services nonprofit to distribute fraudulent campaign materials in 2012

The Berkeley Democratic Club (BDC), founded in 1934, is facing serious questions about alleged violations of state and local campaign finance laws. On July 12, 2013, the Berkeley Fair Campaign Practices Commission (FCPC) received a complaint against BDC alleging violations of the Berkeley Election Reform Act (BERA) and state election law, including failure to file expense reports for false and misleading campaign materials that were distributed by homeless people during the November 2012 election cycle.

The BDC Political Action Committee spent a total of $26,781 in the November 2012 election cycle to produce a Berkeley-wide mailer and literature to be distributed at the polls, according to California filing records. While the BDC filed with the California Secretary of State, it failed to file with the City of Berkeley Clerk’s Office, as is required by BERA. A search of campaign filings in Berkeley shows that, despite actively expending funds in the last several election cycles, the BDC stopped filing with the City after August of 2010. 

The BDC was an avid proponent of 2012's Measure S, a ballot measure that would have criminalized sitting on most central city sidewalks. The measure failed to pass. In campaigning for Measure S, the BDC paid for and distributed campaign literature that falsely claimed to be the “official endorsements of the Democratic Party.” In fact, the Alameda County Democratic Party did not support Measure S. In several instances, the BDC also endorsed candidates that competed with those actually endorsed by the Democratic Party. BDC’s false and misleading literature prompted a letter of reprimand from the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee. 

Written testimony that will be presented at the meeting shows that on Election Day the BDC hired numerous homeless or formerly homeless people to pass out their fraudulent literature at polling places in Berkeley. Many if not all of the homeless people passing out the campaign materials were current or former clients of a Berkeley drug and alcohol treatment center, Options Recovery Services, Inc. Eyewitness accounts state that Dr. Davida Coady, the Medical Director of Options and a spokesperson for the Measure S campaign, recruited the clients and John Caner, the CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, coordinated the distribution efforts. The testimony further noted that these clients were paid $100 in cash by Mr. Caner to participate in election-day activities, but these payments were not disclosed to the city or state. 

“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,” said Patricia Wall, director of Berkeley’s Homeless Action Center.  

BDC’s failure to report its expenses – namely, printing false and misleading campaign literature and paying homeless people to distribute said literature – effectively kept from public view who gave money to BDC or how it spent that money. BDC’s violations could result in substantial fines and penalties from the Fair Campaign Practices Commission. 

Berkeley’s Deputy City Attorney Kristy van Herick, in a staff memorandum to the commission, writes that “...there are other issues discussed in the Complaint which may involve actions of one or more City committees within this Commission’s purview” and that “[t]he Commission may decide, after review of the Complaint, to request that staff initiate an investigation regarding the campaign compliance of one or more City committees.” 

The 2012 election in Berkeley saw an unprecedented amount of money infiltrate numerous local campaigns, largely from political action committees and corporate interests. Earlier this year, the Fair Campaigns Practices Commission issued the second largest fine in Berkeley history against the landlord-backed, so-called Tenants United for Fairness (TUFF) Slate Mailer Organization (SMO). Recently, the California Fair Political Practices Commission issued a warning letter to the East Bay Rental Housing Association PAC for failure to disclose an expenditure of $12,000 in support of the TUFF SMO. The Berkeley Democratic Club was the only Democratic organization in Alameda County to endorse Measure S and the TUFF Rent Board slate. 

When: Thursday, September 19, 2013, starting at 7:00 PM 

Where: North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave, Berkeley, CA (Look for “Fair Campaign Practices Commission” or “FCPC” signs) 

For more information on the Fair Campaigns Practices Commission and staff report regarding the Berkeley Democratic Club: 


For more information on the Fair Campaigns Practice Commission stipulation with the Tenants United for Fairness Slate Mailer Organization: 


For more information on the California Fair Political Practices Commission warning letter to the East Bay Rental Housing Association Political Action Committee: 


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