Progressive Student Association files complaint alleging campaign violations by City Council candidates, organizations

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Updated 11/6/2018: This article has been updated with additional information from Lori Droste’s campaign.

Three days before Tuesday’s election, the UC Berkeley Progressive Student Association, or PSA, filed a complaint alleging four Berkeley City Council candidates and two organizations violated the Berkeley Elections Reform Act, or BERA.

The complaint, sent to the Fair Campaign Practices Commission, or FCPC, was lodged against District 1 candidate Rashi Kesarwani, District 4 candidates Ben Gould and Gregory Magofña, District 8 candidate Lori Droste, the Berkeley Democratic Club, or BDC, and the Berkeley Police Association, or BPA.

But many of those accused of campaign violations, which include failures to list a major donor and failure to report expenses, denied the validity of PSA’s complaint.

According to PSA Vice President Matthew Lewis, the complaint holds two purposes — to hold the candidates and organizations accountable and to inform voters of the alleged violations.

“All of these anti-student candidates and anti-student organizations we’ve filed against have committed obvious violations,” Lewis said. “They did not make a mistake — these are ridiculous and obvious violations, some of which have gone unpunished.”

In its complaint, the PSA alleged that Kesarwani and Gould paid to be included in a slate mailer distributed by BDC but did not include this expenditure in their finance reports.

PSA alleged that Droste also violated the same provision and that she failed to file her most recently required finance reports. Droste’s campaign denied the allegations in an email and the city of Berkeley’s Netfile page showed that she filed a recent report Oct. 23.

BDC president Laurie Capitelli denied this violation, however, and called the complaint a “fundamental misunderstanding of campaign finance laws.” He said that though BDC initially received contributions for its slate mailer from the candidates, after consulting with the city clerk, Kesarwani, Gould and Droste paid their portion of the printing cost directly to Autumn Press so as not to violate campaign finance law.

Kesarwani said the complaint has “no basis in fact,” and she has amended her filings form to clarify that the $750 payment to Autumn Press was for the BDC endorsement mailer. Gould added that because the expenditure toward Autumn Press was reported in his filings, he does not anticipate the complaint will be sustained by the FCPC.

PSA also alleged in its complaint that Magofña violated the BERA by failing to properly report the recipient of an expenditure and by illegally using campaign contributions to pay for admissions to a Democratic fundraiser.

I have followed all of the proper procedures to my knowledge and if it is found that there is a violation, I would take that very seriously and rectify it immediately,” Magofña said in an email.

In the complaint, PSA also alleged that BDC violated BERA by failing to provide the FCPC with copies of its mass mailings. PSA further alleged that BDC has not filed any mass mailings with the city since 2010.

Capitelli said BDC is a state committee, not a city committee, because it endorses both city and statewide candidates and initiatives. Because BDC is a state committee, the organization filed copies of its mailings with the state and county, but not with Berkeley, Capitelli said.

According to the complaint, BPA also allegedly failed to meet the deadline to provide the FCPC with copies of its mass mailings and lied about the date a mailer was sent.

BPA could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Gould questioned the motivations behind PSA’s allegations, referring to the complaint as a “desperate last-ditch smear effort.”

“The timing and targets of their allegations makes it clear that they have little interest in ensuring free, fair and transparent elections, and are simply attempting to undermine those progressive candidates which they failed to endorse,” Gould said.

In the event that the FCPC finds the violations to be valid, it will most likely issue a fine, according to Lewis. He added that any candidate found to have violated BERA will be fined at least twice the offending amount.

In the case of a significant violation, FCPC can terminate a candidate’s candidacy or forfeit their office, Lewis said. Furthermore, a candidate found guilty of violating BERA may be banned from running for office for four years.

Contact Amber Tang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ambertang_dc.

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article may have implied that Lori Droste failed to file her most recently required finance reports. In fact, the UC Berkeley Progressive Student Association alleged that she failed to file these reports, but Droste denied this allegation, and the city of Berkeley’s NetFile page showed that she filed a recent report Oct. 23.

Correction(s):
A previous version of the infographic accompanying this article incorrectly stated that the UC Berkeley Progressive Student Association alleged that Ben Gould failed to list a major donor in his campaign. In fact, the association alleged that Gould failed to report the employer of a contributor in his campaign.