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Berryhills in trouble with FPPC

POSTED November 23, 2012 8:51 p.m.

This week was not a good one for Bill Berryhill. Not only did the Ceres native see his opponent for the State Senate gain on him in the Nov. 6 vote count, but the state Fair Political Practices Commission came down on him for 2008 violations of state campaign finance laws.

Berryhill, a Ceres grape grower who rose from a trustee on the Ceres Unified School District Board of Trustees to state Assembly, ran for the 5th Senate District in this month’s election. He was leading over Democrat challenger Cathleen Galgiani but as provisional and mail ballots continue to be counted, Berryhill’s lead has evaporated. Galgiani was leading Berryhill 140,192 to 138,081 votes as of Wednesday. San Joaquin County has yet to count another 1,600 ballots and Stanislaus County has another 3,500 to tally.

A winner must be certified by Dec. 4.

The FPPC has filed a complaint alleging that Berryhill and brother and State Senator Tom Berryhill laundered $40,000 in campaign funds during 2008 when both were running for Assembly in neighboring districts.

The allegations claim that Tom Berryhill, R-Oakdale, 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 asserts that Tom Berryhill generated $50,000 during an Oct. 28, 2008 fundraiser, fully anticipating turning the money over to his brother. An Oct. 29 e-mail 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 e-mailed 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 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 states 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 said Tom Berryhill denies any wrongdoing and is challenging the state watchdog agency. Bell 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.

The commission is seeking penalties of up to $80,000.

Bell said the brothers and their respective committees will be defending themselves at a June hearing before an administrative law judge.

The FPPC also noted that Tom Berryhill failed to report $244 worth of Disneyland tickets, and $54 in Keith Urban show tickets.

The Berryhills are the sons of Clare Berryhill, a well-known Ceres farmer who served in the state Assembly and as director of California Food and Agriculture Department before he ran against Gary Condit in 1989.

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