State Sen. Tom Berryhill is accused of laundering $40,000 in violation of state campaign finance laws to help his brother Bill Berryhill get elected to the Assembly in 2008.
Tom Berryhill, R-Oakdale, represented Tuolumne and Calaveras counties in the Assembly from 2004 to 2010 before winning in the Senate district that includes Tuolumne County in 2010. He has filed paperwork to seek re-election in a newly drawn district that includes both counties during the 2014 campaign.
The state Fair Political Practices Commission alleges in a 44-page complaint filed on Oct. 5 that Tom Berryhill held an October fundraiser ostensibly to support his campaign against Democrat Taylor White, a then-19-year-old Modesto Junior College Student Body president.
Berryhill raised $50,000 and immediately gave $20,000 each to San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties' Republican central committees with orders to send that money to Bill Berryhill's campaign to pay for television attack ads against his Democratic opponent, John Eisenhut, the complaint alleges.
This was done to circumvent a $3,600 limit on donations to a campaign by individuals and a $30,200 limit in giving by a single central committee, according to the FPPC.
"Telephone calls, texts and emails during the period of the laundering are consistent with a laundering scheme," the complaint states. "For example, records show that (then-Assemblyman) Tom Berryhill was in communication during this time with the chairman of (the) Stanislaus County Republican Central Committee, the committee treasurer, an executive board member of the committee, his brother, and his brother's campaign manager. Also, records show that (Assemblyman) Bill Berryhill was in communication during this time with his own campaign manager, a member of (the) Stanislaus County Republican Central Committee, and ... met with the chairman of (the) San Joaquin County Republican Central Committee to discuss the need for money to pay for his commercial television campaign."
Bill Berryhill went on to edge Eisenhut for election to a district that borders his brother's with 51 percent of the vote.
Tom Berryhill defeated White by about a 2-to-1 margin.
Bill Berryhill won re-election to the Assembly in 2010 and his brother won the Senate seat vacated by Republican Dave Cogdill's retirement that year.
A representative at Berryhill's Capitol office directed questions about the case to Charles Bell, a Sacramento attorney who represents the Berryhills and both central committees. Bell did not return a call from The Union Democrat but has previously denied any wrongdoing by his clients.
The complaint seeks $80,000 in fines from each of the parties with a June hearing date set before an administrative law judge in the case.
Bill Berryhill sought a Stockton-area Senate seat in this year's election and, in a race that is still too close to call, trails Democratic Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani by just 2,011 votes in counts completed as of Monday, a margin of eight-10ths of 1 percent.
The Berryhill brothers are the sons of late GOP lawmaker Clare Berryhill, who served in both houses of the California Legislature during his lengthy political career.