Rep. Brad Sherman’s political consultant thought he smelled a rat when he uncovered what he considered evidence of some possible — and illegal — collusion between rival Howard Berman’s campaign and one of the “super PACs” that have formed to support Berman in the costly clash between the two Democratic congressmen for a single San Fernando Valley district seat.
Combing through the most recent campaign finance records filed with the Federal Election Commission, Sherman chief consultant Parke Skelton noticed that the Berman campaign had made payments to the same consultant used by the super PAC Committee to Elect an Effective Valley Congressman, one of at least two such organizations favoring Berman. Super PACs may collect and spend unlimited amounts to oppose or help elect candidates so long as their efforts are “independent” and they do not coordinate with the candidate’s campaign.
Skelton found the Berman for Congress Campaign had paid consultant Jerry Seedborg $132,000 while the super PAC incurred a debt of $23,595 to Seedborg’s company, Voter Guide Slate Cards.
"If my worst suspicions are true,” Skelton said in a news release Friday, “then what we’re seeing is an outrageous example of the destructive role of super PACs in our democracy. I am deeply concerned that this is evidence the Berman campaign is coordinating with a super PAC — and that would be clearly illegal.”
Not so, said Brandon Hall, a senior advisor for the Berman campaign.
“Jerry Seedborg and the campaign parted ways almost two months ago,” said Hall, who would not publicly disclose the reason for the parting. “We have no control over the actions of any independent expenditure efforts, as we are not allowed to coordinate with them.”
Sherman made super PACs an issue early in the campaign by repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, challenging Berman to sign a pledge aimed at blunting their influence in the race, which is on its way to possibly setting a record for spending in a House election.
Sherman had more success with another of his challenges in the increasingly contentious contest. He released copies of his 2011 federal income tax returns earlier this week and urged Berman to do the same.
On Friday, Hall said Berman would release his returns soon. And he added that Berman was looking “forward to getting back to the real issues in this campaign,” including the two congressmen’s sparring over who can rightly take credit for expansion of the 405 Freeway.
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Photo: Reps. Brad Sherman, left, and Howard Berman at a candidates forum earlier this year. Credit: Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times