2012 election sees spike in complaints of Berkeley election law violation

A voter is helped by a poll worker at Unit 2 during the elections on November 6, 2012.
Faith Buchanan/File
A voter is helped by a poll worker at Unit 2 during the elections on November 6, 2012.

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The number of formal complaints of election law violations filed by city residents was higher in this year’s election as compared to those filed in previous years.

Community members filed a total of four complaints in the Nov. 6 election, with two of the four complaints set to be resolved by the city’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission next month. In the last six years, the commission has seen smaller numbers of formal complaints during local elections.

“There was a lot on the ballot this year, so there was … maybe slightly more (complaints) this year,” said Kristy van Herick, the commission’s secretary. “It just depends on how busy the election is.”

Both the complaint against one of the slates running for the Rent Stabilization Board and the complaint against Councilmember Laurie Capitelli’s re-election committee will be discussed at a special meeting on Dec. 13, though the two complaints about Measure T — which narrowly failed in this year’s election and would have allowed expanded development in West Berkeley — have been resolved.

City Planning Commissioner Patti Dacey filed a complaint in October alleging that the Tenants United For Fairness slate used large donations to oppose Berkeley’s Measure U — also known as the Sunshine Ordinance — to release two mailers largely in support of TUFF’s slate of rent board candidates.

“They wrote a lengthy complaint that’s baseless,” said Jay James, a former TUFF slate candidate. “I’ll be waiting to see (what the FCPC will say).”

The complaint filed by former mayor Shirley Dean alleges that the Re-Elect Laurie Capitelli for City Council 2012 Committee violated a state law specifying that an officer of a local agency may not engage in “political activities of any kind while in uniform.” The mailer the committee sent featured a photo of Capitelli with a uniformed police officer. The pictured officer was Capitelli’s son, a police officer in Petaluma.

“The campaign funds used to produce and distribute this misleading, illegal mailer violates campaign spending laws over which (the commission has) jurisdiction,” the complaint states.

However, Capitelli said Dean’s claims are based on violations of state law, which would not be within the purview of the commission.

“I think that her allegations are unfounded,” he said.

The commission is limited to overseeing the Berkeley Election Reform Act and typically does not evaluate the accuracy of the material, van Herick said.

During the 2006 election, the commission investigated three complaints regarding potential campaign violations, but in 2008, the FCPC did not investigate any complaints about violations of the Berkeley Election Reform Act, according to reports submitted by the commission to the City Council.

Similarly, during the city’s 2010 election, no formal complaint was listed, though a potential complaint was brought up, according to the commission’s previous board meeting agenda.

“I think (complaints have) been higher than ever before,” Dean said. “It shows the blatant disregard of the city and state laws.”


Daphne Chen covers city government. Contact her at [email protected]