State Sen. Don Perata has honed a reputation as a skilled, tough campaigner. He also has run afoul of campaign watchdogs.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission has fined the Oakland Democrat a total of $14,500 in two cases. In the more recent incident, Perata was found to have violated campaign contribution caps in the special election he won for the state Senate in 1998.
Under the rules in effect at the time, candidates in special elections could not take donations of more than $1,000, though they could spend unlimited amounts of their own money on their races.
Three weeks before the Democratic primary, Perata’s terminally ill father gave him $90,000 for his campaign, according to an FPPC description of the case. Rather than report the money as a loan or donation, Perata put the money in his personal bank account. He then moved the money into his campaign fund. Perata’s father died a week before the primary.
With the $90,000 infusion, Perata bested his main rival, then-Assemblywoman Dion Aroner of Berkeley, by 942 votes. He easily won the general election that year in the heavily Democratic East Bay district.
The FPPC noted that Perata paid for much of his father’s care, and his father had intended to bequeath his son the money.
The commission nonetheless fined Perata $4,000 in 2001, noting that “timely disclosure of a contribution greatly in excess of those [$1,000] limits might have generated substantial attention.”
In 1999, the FPPC fined Perata $10,500 for neglecting to disclose six clients of his consulting business on his 1995 statement of economic interests, a public document that all candidates and elected officials must file with the state.
At the time, Perata was running for the state Assembly. Clients he did not disclose included several who had donated money to him when he was on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, and who had business before the county.
The issue attracted attention when Bay Area bond underwriter Calvin Grigsby came under federal criminal investigation over irregularities stemming from a Miami bond deal, and authorities found that Grigsby had paid Perata $15,000 in 1995. State law requires candidates and officeholders to disclose clients who pay them $10,000 or more in a year. Grigsby was acquitted in 1999.
Perata blamed his failure to disclose all of his clients on erroneous legal counsel given to him the first time he was elected to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.
“Given the extraordinary volume of fundraising he does, it’s not unusual that a couple of things were overlooked,” said Jason Kinney, a former aide to Perata who is helping him in his candidacy for Senate leader.