BERKELEY -- A campaign organization backed by local landlords has agreed to pay the city $4,000 in fines for running afoul of election laws, the second highest fine levied against a political entity here in over 20 years.
And a group of rent board candidates affiliated with the organization agreed to fines for failing to disclose in a timely manner donor contributions funneled through the organization.
The Berkeley Fair Campaign Practices Commission Thursday night approved the fines against the ironically named landlord group, Berkeley Tenants United for Fairness. The commission also approved fines against the individual candidates, only one of whom was elected, ranging from $20 to $300 each.
"Although the fines agreed to by Berkeley Tenants United for Fairness may seem low to some people in the public, they are the second highest the commission has seen in at least two decades," said Patrick O'Donnell, chair of the Fair Campaign Practices Commission. "It is significant."
In the mid 1990s there was a fine against an individual candidate for $5,000, officials said.
O'Donnell and Deputy City Attorney Kristy Van Herick said the Tenants United group, which also campaigned against an open government ballot initiative it helped to defeat, was fined because it did not accurately disclose where and to whom its money was going.
Those signing the agreement to pay the $4,000 in fines are Sid Lakireddy, president of the Berkeley Property Owner's Association; Jay James, an officer with the group who was also one of the rent board candidates; Rita Copeland, its treasurer; John Lineweaver, president of Diablo Holdings; and Sam Sorokin, president of Premium Property Management and Development.
The rent board candidates agreeing to the fines are Jay James for $300, Kiran Shenoy for $300, Nicole Drake for $300 and Judy Hunt for $20. Only Hunt was elected to the rent board.
Berkeley City Councilman Jesse Arreguin, who attended the commission's meeting to approve the fines, said the fines against the Tenants United group were "a slap on the wrist."
"This is one of the most egregious violations of the city's election law and it's precedent setting," Arreguin said. "I'm very concerned about what they did."
But an attorney for the Tenants United group said its members have taken responsibility and have shown remorse.
"They are trying to do the best they can to make up for it," said Erika Boyd. "I don't think this is an instance of big money coming in and trying to influence elections. Only one of their candidates won. We hope we can put this to bed and move on."
None of the individual candidates fined were available for comment.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.