Mayor Jesse Arreguín to receive fine for violating campaign finance law

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Lianne Frick/File

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Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín violated a campaign finance law 18 times during his 2016 campaign and is now required to pay a fine, according to documents provided by the city’s Fair Campaign Practices Commission, or FCPC.

Arreguín’s senior adviser, Jacquelyn McCormick, used her personal credit card to pay for $3,388.82 in campaign expenses, the documents stated. As McCormick was not reimbursed within the 45-day period, but rather many months later, her payments were classified as donations.

The Berkeley Election Reform Act, however, restricts the amount that individuals can contribute to a candidate to $250. Arreguín said he considers the violation a “technical” one.

“We’re a grassroots campaign and we needed to make those expenditures at that time,”Arreguín said. “We fully acknowledge and take responsibility for the violation.”

Although the violation occurred during Arreguín’s 2016 campaign, the FCPC recommended that he be fined during its June 21 meeting, after conducting an investigation into the matter.

According to city spokesperson Matthai Chakko, the FCPC will charge a fine somewhere between $1,000 and $3,388.82, and would like to highlight the then-candidate’s recognition that a violation occurred, as well as his commitment to avoid future violations. Arreguín has previously contested this fine with the hopes of lowering the amount; although he originally angled for a $500 fine, the FCPC has decided to make it at least $1,000, according to Berkeleyside.

Berkeley City Councilmember Susan Wengraf said she believe  the violation is not important to Berkeley citizens, since the campaign finance laws are very complex and intricate, and it’s easy to make a mistake.

Councilmember Ben Bartlett echoed similar sentiments, stating, “The campaign finance laws are totally Byzantine. It’s too easy to run afoul of the rules. … The punishments are needlessly harsh.”

As for public sentiment regarding the violation, Arreguín said he believes that most Berkeley citizens see the issue in a sympathetic light. After hearing from residents and reading comments left on the Berkeleyside article regarding the violation, he said that many people understand that mistakes like his arise during campaigns, and that it will not be counted against him as an “ethical violation.”

Regardless of what future reforms may or may not happen, Arreguín says he will be proactive about learning from the violation, and in order to avoid perpetrating any violations in the future, he will employ a professional treasurer for his campaign to manage funds.

Bartlett said campaign finance laws need to be changed to make following the laws easier.

“The new people running for office now … we need to protect them from being penalized for innocent mistakes,” Bartlett said.

For more information, visit the FCPC website to view the June 21 meeting agenda.

Contact Kelly Yang and Jasmine Sheena at [email protected].