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Campaign agency levels fines against GOP brothers

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- California's political watchdog agency issued fines totaling $40,000 to two brothers and their campaign committees Thursday for improperly transferring money between their campaigns as both ran for state Assembly in 2008, a case that the agency called one of the most significant it has pursued.

The California Fair Political Practices Commission unanimously accepted an administrative law judge's recommendation that Sen. Tom Berryhill, of Twain Harte, and his brother, former Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, of Ceres, be fined for improperly transferring $40,000 between their campaigns through two county Republican central committees.

Commissioners leveled the fines following a closed session after hearing arguments in the case last week. An attorney for the brothers said they may fight the decision in court.

“The case is about cheating in elections,” said commission spokesman Jay Wierenga. “The Berryhills intentionally violated the public's limits on campaign contributions to gain an unfair electoral advantage. This is one of the most significant cases we have prosecuted and today's action by commissioners, in a bipartisan, unanimous decision, shows that this is serious.”

Tom Berryhill was an assemblyman successfully seeking re-election to the 25th Assembly District in 2008. Bill Berryhill needed money for his successful bid to represent the 26th Assembly District. Bill Berryhill lost a subsequent campaign to join his brother in the Senate.

The brothers, both Republicans, argued that there was no guarantee that Tom Berryhill's money would go through the committees to Bill Berryhill, though Administrative Law Judge Jonathan Lew ruled otherwise.

“Our clients continue to strongly deny that they did anything wrong here and they believe the FPPC's decision applied the wrong law,” said Charles Bell Jr., whose Sacramento law firm represented all the defendants in the case.

They will decide in coming weeks whether to challenge the commission's ruling in Superior Court, he said.

If the commission's decision stands, Bell said, it will sow confusion among potential campaign donors, political action committees and political party committees.

“We think it's going to chill political donations substantially unless it's corrected by the courts or the Legislature,” he said.

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