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Berryhill brothers fined $40,000 for campaign financing violations, deny guilt

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California State Senator Tom Berryhill (R,Twain Harte) and his brother former Assemblyman Bill Berryhill (R,Modesto) were fined $40,000 for campaign finance violations, according to The Modesto Bee on Thursday. The fine dates back to 2008 when the two brothers were running for re-election to the State Assembly. Allegedly Tom Berryhill, who did not need money for his campaign, laundered money to his brother Bill, who did need campaign funds, through two local Republican Central Committees. Ironically, the amount of money presumed to have been laundered is $40,000, the same as the amount of the fine.

The fine was recommended by the California Fair Political Practices Commission after a closed session meeting. Commissioners who were interviewed after the meeting stated that they believed that cheating and corruption had taken place in the money transfer and offered little or no empathy for the two brothers and their plight. Commission spokesperson Jay Wierenga stated:

"The case is about cheating in elections. 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."

However, both Berryhill brothers claim that when they transferred the funds to the two Republican Central Committees, that they had no way of knowing to whom the funds were going to be distributed by the Central Committees. In other words, the brothers are claiming that they had no malicious intent when they transferred the money to the committees because they had idea where the money was going to end up, even though it ultimately went to Bill Berryhill for his re-election campaign in its entirety.

The Administrative law judge did not buy the brothers' argument and instead levied the $40,000 fine against them. However, the two brothers' attorney, Charles Bell, Jr., categorically denied the judge's findings and insisted that his clients are innocent:

"Our clients continue to strongly deny that they did anything wrong here and they believe the FPPC's decision applied the wrong law."

Both Tom and Bill Berryhill are the sons of the late California State Agriculture Commissioner, Clare Berryhill, who was the consummate politician in the Modesto area in the 1960's and '70's. He was an Assemblyman from California's 25th Assembly District and later a State Senator before being appointed as Agriculture Secretary by Governor George Deukmejian in 1983. Clare Berryhill was known as a fair-minded, moderate and open-minded politician and set an example for other Central Valley politicians of both parties. Perhaps the lesson somehow was lost somewhere along the line as it pertains to Clare's sons Tom and Bill.