FPPC ballot-measure beef targets Rep. Berman

Supporters of 2008’s successful Proposition 11 redistricting-reform measure and of another measure proposed for November to widen Prop. 11’s scope filed a complaint with a political watchdog agency today against those seeking to undo it.

The complaint asks the Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate whether House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman, D-Los Angeles, and his brother, political consultant Michael Berman, are the puppetmasters of the “Yes on FAIR (Financial Accountability In Redistricting)” committee, which is pushing a ballot measure to repeal Prop. 11.

The complaint says Yes on FAIR lists only UCLA Law Professor Daniel Lowenstein as the committee’s principal officer, yet news reports and other evidence outlined in the complaint indicate that the Bermans are behind it and are actually exerting control over its actions. Hiding involvement in a campaign committee is a violation of California’s Political Reform Act (PRA), and the complaint says voters have a right to know who’s trying to reverse their will of just 16 months ago.

Today’s complaint was filed by the Voters First Act for Congress committee, which is awaiting verification of signatures to place on November’s ballot a constitutional amendment removing authority for setting California’s 53 Congressional district boundaries from the state Legislature, and giving that authority instead to the same Citizens Redistricting Commission that will soon be setting state Legislative boundaries as required by Prop. 11. Voters First Act for Congress is wholly funded by Palo Alto physicist Charles T. Munger Jr., son of Warren Buffett’s billionaire investor partner; last Tuesday he put another $370,500 into the measure, bringing his total out-of-pocket spending since October to just over $3.1 million.

Attorney Steve Lucas, discussing the complaint with reporters on a conference call this afternoon, said this complaint doesn’t address other, potentially serious implications under federal law. The McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, which Berman supporter, prohibits committees controlled by members of Congress from raising “soft money” from corporations and unions, and also from raising money from anyone in amounts exceeding $5,000 – both of which this committee has already done.

Derek Cressman, Western Regional Director of State Operations for the nonprofit, nonpartisan government accountability group Common Cause, told reporters the Bermans have “a significant degree of self-interest” behind undoing Prop. 11, especially if Munger’s measure is about to expand it – Howard Berman represents a notoriously gerrymandered district, and Michael Berman has made a great deal of money as a redistricting consultant.

Rep. Berman issued this statement today:

Howard Berman“While I haven’t been officially notified of the Munger complaint, a copy has been sent to me by the media. There is no substance to the allegations that I either control the Yes on FAIR Committee or have violated any provisions of the Political Reform Act.

“As evidenced by my disclosed contribution to Yes on FAIR, I have never hidden my opposition to the Munger initiative or my support of the Financial Accountability in Redistricting initative.

“But I suspect that this filing illustrates the definition of a ‘frivolous’ complaint designed solely to get media attention, irrespective of its total lack of substance.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.