Mayor Erred in Reporting Campaign Funds

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Opponents of Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean successfully challenged her campaign finance practices before a city commission last week.

The Fair Campaign Practices Commission Thursday found Dean in "probable violation" of campaign finance law by accepting approximately $550 in excess campaign contributions.

Berkeley resident Carrie Olson, a supporter of mayoral candidate Tom Bates, alleged in a complaint that Dean had accepted campaign contributions above the legal limit in her 1998

mayoral campaign.

Olson said she did not support Bates when she filed the complaint.

Under Berkeley election law, the maximum amount an individual can contribute to any single candidate's campaign is $250.

"I hear them say, 'Our limit is $250,'" Olson said. "'Nobody gets corrupted by $250.' But every dollar that's used needs to be scrutinized and accounted for properly. There should be no question but that representatives have no special interests."

In a letter to the commission, Thomas Luten, who represented Dean before the commission, called some of the excess contributions "an oversight, an innocent error."

"All I can say in my defense is that we processed nearly 1,600 checks in a relatively short time, amounting to over $170,000," he said in the letter.

The commission voted 7-2 against Dean, presenting her with a number of requests including that she sign an admission of collecting illegally excessive contributions and that she contribute the excess funds to Berkeley's General Fund.

Dean said she was surprised the commission asked her to sign an admission of wrongdoing.

"It's so silly," she said. "It's politically motivated."

In a second decision, Dean was directed to re-categorize $3,000 from expenses to campaign spending in her current re-election bid.

The complaint was filed by Mal Bernstein, the campaign treasurer for Bates.

"I'm not alleging that there was anything illegal," Bernstein said. "I'm only saying that the funds were misreported."

Luten, however, told the commission the funds had been spent on noncampaign-related expenses and therefore should not be reported as campaign expenditures.

But in another 7-2 vote, the nine-member commission found that because the money was raised as campaign contributions, it must be considered as such, regardless of how it was spent.

The approximately 30 donors who gave Dean the $3,000 for her current campaign are now prohibited from donating additional funds to her campaign, Luten said.

Dean said she was "puzzled" the commission had ruled against her, saying various city officials told her to file the expenditures in question as noncampaign expenses.


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