Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, August 7, 2001


Page 8


Bernson Agrees to Fine for Accepting Improper Contributions


By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer


City Councilman Hal Bernson and his campaign treasurer have agreed to pay $18,500 in fines for taking illegal contributions during the councilman’s 1999 re-election effort.

Bernson accepted $11,600 in donations that exceeded the city’s per-person limits, according to a proposed stipulation between the city Ethics Commission and Bernson and treasurer Leo Howard. The money came from 26 different donors, including city Police Commission member Herbert F. Boeckmann II, owner of Galpin Motors in North Hills, and the Engineers & Architects Assn., one of the largest unions of Los Angeles city employees.

The proposal becomes final on adoption by the commission, which is set to consider it tomorrow afternoon.

If finalized it would be the third time the commission has fined the councilman from the Northwest San Fernando Valley, and the second in less than a year.

In October, Bernson agreed to pay $3,000 for accepting free legal services from the law firm of his friend, City Hall lobbyist Neil Papiano. The commission calculated the value of the services and found that it exceeded the per-donor limit.

The firm, Iverson, Yoakum, Papiano & Hatch, provided $4,604 in legal advice and services to help Bernson fight an earlier Ethics Commission action—the 1997 charge that Bernson broke city laws by spending officeholder account money on Hollywood Bowl tickets for personal use.

City law prohibits City Council candidates from accepting more than $500 in donations per election from any single contributor. Contributions to city officeholder accounts—-funds for incumbents not in a re-election period—-are limited to $500 per fiscal year.

In almost every instance cited by the commission’s enforcement division, donors gave Bernson the full $500 in April 1998, then followed up with an equal payment nearly a year later.

Although the contributions were not within the same calendar or fiscal year, they were charged to the same April 1999 election in which Bernson was returned to his 12th District seat for the final time.

The 22-year council veteran is termed out in 2003.

The excess contributions have been returned to the donors, Bernson spokesman Ali Sar said.

“Basically the stipulation speaks for itself,” Sar said. “He signed it. There was a mistake by his campaign treasurer, and the money was returned when it was discovered.”

The excess donations came to light during the commission’s post-election audits.

Bernson’s fund raising and spending have been the focus of scrutiny in the past, in addition to the two prior commission actions that resulted in fines.

In earlier audits the commission has criticized the condition of the councilman’s record-keeping. Bernson also was the victim of embezzlement by a bookkeeper in the late 1980s.

Bernson was also criticized for use of political action committee funds for travel and has previously been cited, but not fined, for excess fund raising.

A state probe in 1989 found no wrongdoing.


Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company