California's political-ethics panel Thursday unanimously approved a $40,000 money-laundering penalty against state Sen. Tom Berryhill, agreeing with an administrative law judge's recommended decision that the Twain Harte Republican committed "serious and deliberate" violations of campaign-finance rules.
The Fair Political Practices Commission announced the fine after a brief special meeting in Oakland conducted by telephone. Last week, the panel took the case under submission after hearing from the commission's enforcement chief and Berryhill's attorney.
Authorities allege that Berryhill, seeking to bypass contribution limits, colluded with his brother — former Assemblyman Bill Berryhill — and GOP central committees in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties to move $40,000 in Tom Berryhill campaign money into Bill Berryhill's campaign in the days before the November 2008 election.
"The commission has unanimously voted to adopt the ALJ's proposed decision with limited, minor and technical changes noted by the enforcement division," Commissioner Eric Casher said after the closed session.
Thursday's outcome has significant implications for campaign finance, especially for the millions of political dollars that flow through Republican and Democratic committees before arriving in candidates' treasuries. Commission enforcement chief Gary Winuk said the outcome makes it clear that coordinating the money moves is illegal. But Berryhill's attorney, Charles M. Bell, said the outcome makes the rules more confounding.
Berryhill is the fourth senator facing serious ethical problems. State sens. Ron Calderon and Leland Yee have been indicted on corruption and other charges, and state Sen. Ron Calderon is appealing his conviction for flying about his residence when he ran for office in 2008. The Senate has suspended the three senators.