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California Fair Political Practice Commission

State lawmaker brothers accused of money laundering

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.


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State political watchdog to investigate another health district official

California's political watchdog agency is investigating a Fremont health care district official to determine whether he violated the state’s conflict-of-interest laws.

Michael Wallace, president of the Washington Township Health Care District board, is also the chairman of the board of Fremont Bank, which has received more than $1 million in fees from the taxpayer-funded district. Wallace declined to comment on the investigation.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission's decision to investigate Wallace, made public last week, is the latest in a series of probes it has initiated following a July report by The Bay Citizen that uncovered millions of dollars in questionable transactions involving companies and nonprofits with ties to health care district officials across the state.


Gerald Shefren and Arthur Faro, board members of the Sequoia Healthcare District in Redwood City, and Frank Burgess, a former board member of the San Gorgonio Memorial Healthcare District in Riverside County, also are under investigation for possibly violating state conflict-of-interest laws. 


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State's political watchdog to probe health district conflicts

The state’s political watchdog agency has launched investigations into whether officials in two publicly funded health care districts in the Bay Area and Southern California were involved in decisions that benefited them financially.

The investigations by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, made public this week, will focus on whether three current and former board members violated the state’s conflict-of-interest laws.

The probes follow an investigation last month by The Bay Citizen and California Watch, which uncovered millions of dollars in questionable transactions involving companies and nonprofits with ties to top district officials. California's 74 taxpayer-funded health care districts control multimillion-dollar budgets with little state oversight. Some operate nursing homes and hospitals. Others manage real estate and distribute community health grants.

Among those under investigation are Gerald Shefren and Arthur Faro, board members of the Sequoia Healthcare District in Redwood City, and Frank Burgess, a former board member of the San Gorgonio Memorial Healthcare District in Riverside County.  


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Feds ask judge to drop Calif. postal records suit

The battle lines have been drawn in an unusual public records spat between a state agency responsible for upholding election laws and the U.S. Postal Service.

The U.S. Department of Justice yesterday asked a federal court to dismiss a California Fair Political Practices Commission lawsuit accusing the U.S. Postal Service of withholding records.

The commission regulates the political activities of public officials, lobbyists and campaign committees and enforces California's campaign reporting and disclosure requirements, conflict-of-interest rules, and election laws.

It sued the post office last month after postal officials refused to provide unredacted copies of a school board candidate's mailing records. The commission is investigating whether the candidate, William Eisen, a former member of the Manhattan Beach Unified School District's board, violated election disclosure rules.

Justice Department attorneys argue that the state commission isn't "entitled" to the records and want the commission to repay the federal government's legal fees. According to the filing: "Defendant asserts that Plaintiff is not entitled to the relief requested, or to any relief whatsoever, and requests that this action be dismissed in its entirety with prejudice and that Defendant be given such other relief as this Court deems proper, including costs and disbursements."


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