Things are getting ugly in the San Fernando Valley. Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman — the two California Democrats locked in a redistricting-fueled death match (here’s a good recent NY Times article on their race) — are now accusing each other of unethical use of campaign funds.
The Berman campaign has launched a new website accusing Sherman of having enriched himself to the tune of almost $500,000 over the years by repeatedly making personal loans to his campaign accounts and then paying himself back with interest.
The Sherman campaign called the accusations “false at best and highly misleading at best.” The L.A. Times reports that the practice is “legal and not uncommon.” (The L.A. Jewish Journal’s Jonah Lowenthal examines the accusations against Sherman and finds them less damning than Berman’s campaign suggests they are.)
In August, the Sherman campaign accused Berman of using campaign funds to illegally overpay his brother, a well-known political consultant.
The Sherman campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that Berman had used campaign cash to enrich his brother. The Sherman campaign found that Michael Berman had been paid $741,500 between the 1992 election season and 2010 by his brother’s campaigns, years that Berman did not face tough opposition. This amount is significantly more than Berman’s campaigns spent during that period on direct mail and voter outreach.
The L.A. Times noted while it’s not illegal for campaigns to hire family members, “federal campaign laws require that the services provided be legitimate and in line with the usual cost, or fair market value, of the job performed.”
Political consultants contacted by the L.A. Times noted that the typical commission paid to voter contact consultants such as Berman is 10 percent to 15 percent of the cost of mail or ads.
Berman’s campaign called the allegations from Sherman “ridiculous,” responding that Michael Berman “is one of the most well respected and utilized political consultants in California” — and noting that he has also been hired in the past by Sherman.