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October 15, 2012

Big bucks for Berman super PAC

The super PAC supporting Rep. Howard Berman is prepared to spend $1.2 million on mailings and cable TV advertising in the final weeks of his intense campaign against Rep. Brad Sherman in the San Fernando Valley.

“We’re moving forward, raising money and doing fine,” said Marc Nathanson, the financier and cable TV executive who heads the PAC, the Committee to Elect an Effective Valley Congressman. He said John Shallman, a well-known local political consultant, is shaping the advertisements.

I talked to Nathanson on the telephone after receiving e-mail from Stephanie Daily, a veteran political fundraiser now working for the pro-Berman PAC asking prospective donors for $1 million in the next two weeks.

Nathanson said the advertising campaign would highlight Sherman’s acceptance of financial support from super PACs run by the Carpenters Union and the National Assn. of Realtors. A taste of that was in the Daily e-mail: “Millions have been spent by special interest super PACS attacking Howard.”

At the outset of the campaign, Sherman criticized Berman for the super PAC, and said the two candidates should refuse such support. Parke Skelton, who is running the Sherman campaign, confirmed that Sherman is accepting support from the union and realtors PACs. “We tried repeatedly to forego super PACs and he (Berman) laughed us off the stage. This is bound to be what happens,” Skelton said. He said the carpenters supported Sherman for his stand on trade and the realtors for the congressman’s efforts to revise loan limits, which helped Valley residents buy homes.

Nathanson said the PAC would spend a total of $2 million by the time the campaign is over, counting both the primary and general election campaigns.

One message, he said, would be that “Brad has terribly inflated his record” and that he is a “very weak, unimportant player who does very little legislatively.” He said that record would be compared with Berman’s on matters such as Israel, a major issue in a district with many Jewish constituents. The advertisements will also counter Sherman’s criticisms of Berman’s trips abroad, which Nathanson said were part of Berman’s job as chair and now ranking member of the House foreign affairs committee.

And, Nathanson said, other ads will remind voters of the debate that turned somewhat physical last Thursday. The candidates argued over Sherman’s contention that Berman did not author the Dream Act, which would have permitted young immigrants here without documents to stay in the country legally. Sherman insisted another congressman was the author. This angered Berman and the two had a disagreement that ultimately saw Sherman putting his arm around Berman—not in a friendly manner—and a sheriff’s deputy separating them.

Jonah Lowenfeld reported in the Jewish Journal that a group of immigration reform advocates said Berman, indeed, was the Dream Act author and that Sherman was slow to back it.

October 1, 2012

A new Berman attack

We in the Berman-Sherman press corps waited on hold for the beginning of the conference call that would bring us the latest bombshell in the contest between the two San Fernando Valley congressmen. Finally, it landed—a charge by Rep. Howard Berman that Rep. Brad Sherman had loaned himself money for political campaigns and charged his campaign organization interest.

It wasn’t exactly a bunker buster. I’ve often encountered this practice in covering political campaigns. A candidate needs money in a hurry to get the campaign going. She dips into the family treasury and makes a loan to the campaign with interest. Later, contributors dump money into the campaign, and the candidate is repaid. This is legal but I’ve always felt there is something questionable about it. The practice permits money to be constantly shifted back and forth in campaigns, and government political enforcement officials, seeking full disclosure, have trouble keeping track of it. In addition, winning candidates hold fundraisers to repay the loan after the election, using their power to squeeze contributors who may have government business before them.

In the conference call and in an e-mail sent out earlier in the day, Brandon Hall, Berman’s senior strategist, said Sherman had loaned his campaign money over several years, and charged interest that totaled $461,000. Hall said the Berman campaign was “not alleging he (Sherman) had done anything illegal” but said he “had crossed over ethical lines” and was “unethical” by using his campaign for “personal enrichment.”

He said Sherman left money in campaign bank accounts for years, charging the campaign interest. Then when he paid the money back, Hall said, “he had to raise money from special interests.”

Parke Skelton, Sherman’s campaign manager, said Sherman charged interest lower than the bank rate. He said Hall’s $461,000 figure was correct. Sherman, he said, would repay part of a loan with contributions. But some of the debt remained after a campaign, and sometimes grew as Sherman loaned his political operation more money for the next campaign—charging interest on the unpaid balance.

Skelton said the Berman effort, to be featured on television and radio ads and mailing, as well as on the Internet, was designed to “distract voters from his own astonishing record of abusing public office” by using a government car for private trips and employing his brother, Michael Berman, as a campaign consultant.

This is pretty complicated stuff but the Berman campaign has reduced it to a simple ad on a new website.

Sherman is leading in the polls, largely because he had previously represented most of the new district, created by a reapportionment that combined the Berman and Sherman districts. Now, Berman strategist Hall said Berman will use the advertising to “draw a contrast with Brad Sherman” in the parts of the old district Sherman represented.

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