Berkeley commission to investigate rent board slate

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At a special meeting Thursday night, Berkeley’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission discussed two complaints regarding alleged city and state election law violations.

The commission decided to further investigate the complaint against the Tenants United for Fairness slate, one of the two slates that ran for the city’s Rent Stabilization Board, and dismissed the complaint against Councilmember Laurie Capitelli’s re-election committee.

Moreover, the commission voted unanimously to direct staff to further investigate whether the TUFF slate-mailer organization is functioning as a candidate-controlled committee, which is a committee that is controlled directly or indirectly by a candidate. If so, this would fall under the jurisdiction of the city to determine the appropriate action to take.

“I was shocked to hear the extent to which the landlord-backed TUFF slate attempted to skirt local and state election law and buy their seats,” said Igor Tregub, Zoning Adjustments Board commissioner and a former rent board member who was part of the Affordable Housing slate, in an email. “The commission, in my opinion, was right to take the actions it did.”

The issue began in October when City Planning Commissioner Patti Dacey filed a complaint alleging that TUFF improperly used funds contributed to the “No on Measure U” campaign to support its candidates. The complaint cites a TUFF mailer in which a message opposing Measure U, which would have allowed residents to put items on council meeting agendas by gathering signatures, and a message in support of the four TUFF rent board candidates appear together.

Another issue in Dacey’s complaint focuses on TUFF’s slate-mailer organization, which sends out mass mailings in support of candidates or ballot measures, and particularly on the active involvement of candidates in a slate-mailer organization.

According to the staff’s recommendation, one candidate was listed as the officer of the slate-mailer organization, “presumably making decisions about how to earmark campaign contributions.” This is prohibited under state law.

But according to Jay James, a former TUFF slate candidate, the interest in slate-mailer organizations seems “misdirected.”

“I suspect it will be a long process because the commissioners are not familiar with slate mailer organizations,” James said in an email. “I was naive to think I could participate in our local politics without supporting the status quo … instead, the opposition candidates, entrenched members of Berkeley politics, have attacked me over and over.”

Since the commission unanimously determined probable cause of irregularities for further investigation, the staff and commission “now have the authority to subpoena any records” that will help them determine whether to set a formal hearing, Tregub said.

Additionally, the commission voted to dismiss the complaint filed by former mayor Shirley Dean because it falls outside the purview of the commission.

The commission is limited to overseeing the Berkeley Election Reform Act, which governs many local campaign finance issues, including restricting individual campaign contributions to $250 and prohibiting contributions by businesses or corporations.

The complaint alleged 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, who is also Capitelli’s son.

“It’s a giant loophole,” Dean said. “People can apparently do anything they want in a political flier, and it’s going to be fine. I don’t think that’s right.”

Contact Daphne Chen at [email protected]

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