State Sen. Tom Berryhill is in the midst of a multi-day Fair Political Practices Commission administrative hearing in Sacramento, defending himself against allegations of 16 campaign finance violations.
Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, is accused of laundering $40,000 in donations to the 2008 campaign of his brother, then-San Joaquin Valley Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, to avoid campaign donation limits.
A hearing began in Sacramento Tuesday in a state administrative hearing room and could last up to nine days. Berryhill faces up to $80,000 in fines if found guilty.
The FPPC’s complaint was filed in October 2012. It alleges Tom Berryhill made two separate $20,000 donations to a pair of GOP central committees in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, which are accused of then passing the money forward to Bill Berryhill’s war chest.
That allowed Tom Berryhill to avoid an individual campaign contribution cap of $3,600, the FPPC claims. The cap per committee is $30,200.
The complaint cites telephone calls and text messages between the brothers and committee members that are allegedly “consistent with a money laundering scheme.”
The money was to pay for television ads attacking Bill Berryhill’s Democratic opponent, John Eisenhut, the complaint alleges. Bill Berryhill ended up beating Eisenhut by a close margin.
The FPPC hearing will run much like a trial, held in front of an administrative law judge with attorneys presenting and questioning witnesses on either side.
FPPC spokesman Richard Hertz said the trial is set to go through next Wednesday.
“After the trial, the administrative law judge will make a recommendation to the (FPPC), and the commission then decides the final disposition of the case,” Hertz said.
He declined to further comment on the case.
Charles Bell, an attorney representing both Berryhills and both central committees in the case, said he believes there is “good evidentiary grounds” for the judge to recommend dismissal.
Tom Berryhill and the other defendants vigorously deny there was a direct connection between Tom Berryhill’s donation to the committees and their donations to Bill Berryhill’s campaign.
“There was no agreement between Tom and the central committees that this money would go to Bill,” Bell said.
Calls to Tom Berryhill’s Sacramento office Wednesday were not returned.
Bill Berryhill won re-election to the Assembly in 2010.
Tom Berryhill, who represents Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, won his state Senate seat, vacated by Republican Dave Cogdill’s retirement, that year.