State Senator Tom Berryhill and his brother, former state Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, will have to pay fines after a ruling by the state Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).
The state watchdog agency agreed with an administrative law judge who earlier ruled that state Senator Tom Berryhill, as well as the Republican central committees in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, must pay $40,000 in fines for 2008 violations of state campaign finance laws as charged by the FPPC.
The FPPC alleged that Berryhill and brother and former state Assemblyman Bill Berryhill laundered $40,000 in campaign funds during 2008 when both were running for Assembly in neighboring districts.
Tom Berryhill, a former Ceres resident and now Twain Harte Republican lawmaker, is subject to pay a $30,000 fine while Bill Berryhill faces a $5,000 fine. The Central Committees may have to pay out $5,000 in fines.
"The case is about cheating in elections," said FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga. "The Berryhills intentionally violated the public's limits on campaign contributions to gain an unfair electoral advantage. This is one of the most significant cases we have prosecuted and today's action by commissioners, in a bipartisan, unanimous decision, shows that this is serious."
The FPPC ruled that Tom Berryhill channeled $40,000 to help his brother buy TV commercials when state law limits such contributions to $3,600. The alleged scheme occurred in the week prior to the 2008 election as Bill Berryhill was running against Hilmar area farmer and Democrat John Eisenhut.
The campaign money in question was requested by campaign manager Carl Fogliani of Stockton to pay for TV commercials already in the works.
The FPPC asserted that Tom Berryhill generated $50,000 during an Oct. 28, 2008 fundraiser at the home of Matt Bruno, fully anticipating turning the money over to his brother. An Oct. 29 email from Tom Berryhill to Fogliani included the words, "Think I can get mony (sic) earlier," while on Oct. 30 Tom Berryhill's campaign committee gifted $20,000 to the Stanislaus County Republican Central Committee. That same day, the Central Committee turned around and donated $20,000 to Bill Berryhill's campaign, the FPPC reported.
Fogliani emailed Tom Berryhill on Oct. 31, asking "Find any new dough?" That same day, Tom Berryhill's committee wrote a $20,000 check to the San Joaquin County Republican Central Committee, which in turn cut a check to Bill Berryhill's campaign committee for $21,000.
It is legal for a central committee to accept up to $30,200 per donor but state law does not permit money changing hands to conspire to skirt campaign laws which forbid funds to be made in the name of another person or entity. The rule is prohibited by the Political Reform Act "because it deprives the public of important information about the true source of campaign contributions and it facilitates the unlawful circumvention of campaign contribution limits." The complaint against the Berryhills, says both central committees, were used as a "mere ‘straw man.'"
The complaint concluded that "by splitting his contribution between two central committees," Tom Berryhill "made sure that every penny would go to his brother's committee."
The Bill Berryhill campaign, said the FPPC, filed a report that falsely claimed the $20,000 and $21,000 donations came from the county committees and not his brother.
Attorney Charles Bell defended Tom Berryhill said no money laundering took place because the central committees independently decided to contribute to Bill Berryhill's campaign. However, the complaint notes that both central committees did not have enough money to give Bill Berryhill until Tom Berryhill came through with his money.