Administrator’s Note: Even though this article focuses on out-of-area officials, it still raises one question. Why weren’t they charged with felonies as people here in San Bernardino County were? The article exposes a sharp contrast in tactics, especially when politics and revenge are involved.

Money & Politics | Daily Report
November 21, 2012 | Lance Williams

Two San Joaquin Valley lawmakers have been accused of laundering $40,000 in a scheme to dodge California’s tough limits on political contributions.

In an accusation filed Oct. 22, the state Fair Political Practices Commission said state Sen. Tom Berryhill, a Modesto Republican, and Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, a Stockton Republican, repeatedly had violated campaign finance laws during the 2008 election.

The lawmakers deny wrongdoing and are contesting the charges, said Charles Bell, a lawyer for Tom Berryhill.

The Berryhills are brothers, and in 2008, they were running for the Assembly in adjacent districts.

The commission said that less than a week before the election, Tom Berryhill gave his brother’s campaign $40,000 – more than 11 times the $3,600 donation limit set by state law – to pay for television advertising.

To mask the true source of the funds, the commission contended that Tom Berryhill steered the money through Republican central committees in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, which by law could accept as much as $30,200 per donor.

As soon as they got the money, the county committees funneled it to Bill Berryhill’s campaign, according to the commission. Bill Berryhill then filed reports falsely claiming that the money came from the county committees and not his brother, the commission said.

The commission said the transactions amounted to money laundering – that is, making a contribution in the name of another person. The commission, the state agency that administers California’s Political Reform Act ethics law, is seeking penalties of up to $80,000.

The pattern of donations in the Berryhill brothers’ 2008 campaigns was first reported in a California Watch story in 2010. It detailed how major donors, Republican and Democrat, had begun funneling millions to county political committees in California to avoid the strict donation limits that apply when the money is given directly to candidates.

The Berryhill brothers and the county committees “absolutely dispute” the commission’s allegations, said Bell, who also represents the committees. The committees independently decided to contribute to Bill Berryhill’s campaign and thus no money laundering occurred, he said. He said the lawmakers and the committees have requested a hearing before an administrative law judge to defend themselves against the charges. The hearing is set for June.

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