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Campaign misdeeds will cost Berg $250, commission rules

The city councilman avoids a more severe penalty from charges levied by a former member of his staff

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

LAST UPDATED: 5:12 p.m. HST, Nov 2, 2012

Honolulu City Councilman Tom Berg was slapped with $250 in additional fines by the state Campaign Spending Commission on Thursday for failing to report campaign contributions and the purchase of a voter list when he first ran for office in 2010.

But the commission also voted to dismiss a more serious charge that Berg used his Council staff to conduct campaign activities during taxpayer hours, a charge that could have forced him to repay the city more than $28,000.

Commission members voted 3-0 to sustain charges that his campaign committee:

» Failed to report four contributions totaling $325.

» Failed to disclose the purchase of a voter email address list for $378.89.

The commission fined Berg $125 for each violation after Berg declared he is "broke." Commission staff attorney Gary K.H. Kam had recommended that Berg be fined $250 for each violation.

Berg blamed the errors on former chief of staff and campaign supporter Eric Ryan, who brought the complaint against his former boss.

Berg said Ryan is "in cahoots" with state Rep. Kymberly Pine, who is challenging Berg's re-election bid in Tuesday's election.

The commission also voted 3-0 to dismiss Ryan's charge that Berg forced him and other Council staffers to do campaign work on city time. Ryan estimated the cost of his own "in-kind" contribution to politicking at about $28,646 during his time working for Berg at taxpayers' expense.

In a written recommendation to the commission last month, Kam had preliminarily advised the commission to require Berg reimburse the city $28,646 and also be fined the maximum $2,000.

Kam said he changed his recommendation to a dismissal after Berg produced documents indicating he was diligent in making sure his staff did not conduct campaign work on city time. When he found out a member of his staff had spent city time working on campaign issues, Berg took immediate action, Kam said.

Berg told reporters after the meeting that Ryan "concocted and fabricated" charges against him after he fired him. Berg said it was Ryan who bought the voter list and controlled the account the four contributions were placed in.

"Everything that I've been fined for has gone through Eric Ryan's fingers," Berg said.

Ryan, reached in Los Angeles, said the commission rushed the meeting at Berg's request and did not review all of the evidence he submitted.

"In the end, the decision was based completely on cherry-picked evidence by Berg that doesn't even mean what it says," Ryan said, insisting that it was Berg who directed him and other staffers to conduct campaign activity on city time.

Five current and former Berg staffers told the commission that Berg told them specifically to not hold campaign activity on city time. Ryan also said Berg filed his own campaign spending reports.

Last month the commission fined Berg $250 for accepting 24 T-shirts without reporting them.

Ryan laughed when told Berg accused him of collaborating with Pine. "Baloney," he said. "I can't stand either of them."

Ryan, who once helped Pine with her campaign, has had his own legal entanglements with her. Pine said she has a restraining order against Ryan.

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