Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition could be fined $18K for alleged campaign financing violations

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Leslie Yang/File

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On Thursday night, the Berkeley Fair Campaign Practices Commission, or BFCPC, voted by a margin of 7-2 to hold a hearing to fine the Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition almost $19,000.

The maximum possible penalty of $18,900.84 would be imposed on the Berkeley Rental Housing Coalition, the political and legal arm of the Berkeley Property Owners Association, for allegedly violating Berkeley campaign finance laws during the 2016 City Council election. The coalition allegedly failed to disclose two independent expenditures of over $1,000 made Nov. 2, 2016, but Nick Sanders, the coalition’s attorney, maintains that this was an unintentional error.

“We don’t think the full $19,000 fine is warranted. I know you guys may be frustrated with how long this has taken. We think a subcommittee is the quickest way to do this,” Sanders said during the meeting. “This was an inadvertent error by a former employee. We are taking full responsibility. We hope we can reach a settlement.”

During the public comment section of the meeting, Christine Schwartz, a Berkeley resident and housing advocate, said she wanted a public trial instead of a negotiated committee. Schwartz campaigned for pro-housing candidates who opposed the coalition’s candidates.

Although many commission members said they believed a trial would be costly and time-consuming, they also agreed that a trial would clear up facts and offer public transparency, especially in response to a defendant letter alleging that the coalition did not respect due process previously.

Matthew Lewis, a campus senior and member of the Berkeley Tenants Union, said he was glad that the case finally reached a hearing after months of delays.

“This is an example of corporations putting their interests ahead of the people, Lewis said. “If campaign finance laws are not enforced, then it is useless. We think this is a really important first step today.”

Contact Jack Austin at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @JackAustinDC.