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.