Trading charges of abusing government funds and and profiteering from campaign contributions, Democrats Brad Sherman and Howard Berman shook the Sukkah on Monday in their fight for the San Fernando Valley’s new 30th Congressional District.
The two liberal, pro-Israel incumbents, who were thrown into a race against each other due to redistricting of their respective House seats, clashed as polls show Sherman, who has strong local backing, ahead of Berman, the Beltway heavyweight.
The match-up, until now tense but polite, turned into a fracas when the Berman campaign launched a volley of negative TV, internet and direct mail messages charging that Sherman repaid himself for personal loans to his campaign war chest, plus interest, for a profit totaling more than $461,000 over a 17-year period.
“We’re not saying this is illegal,” said Berman advisor Brandon Hall in a conference call with reporters. He acknowledged that other members of congress had paid themselves interest on loans they’d made to their own campaigns. But Hall said: “We are saying that we’ve not found anyone who has profited to this sheer amount.”
Hall conceded that Sherman paid himself back at an average interest rate of 6% – a lesser rate than he might have received from a bank. Nevertheless, the Berman campaign is charging Sherman with “a decades-long scheme of personal enrichment, exploiting campaign financing loopholes and profiting from public service.”
The Sherman campaign called Berman’s charges, “false at worst and highly misleading at best.” But representatives for Sherman, a CPA, don’t dispute that his investments in his political career have paid off. Sherman “loaned his campaign money early in his career,” said a statement by the Sherman campaign, “because he faced self-funded multi-millionaire Republican candidates while running in a highly competitive seat.”
Sherman’s campaign also went on offense. “Berman is trying to distract voters from his own astonishing record of abusing public office to enrich himself and members of his family,” the Sherman campaign’s statement continued. The statement cited travel by Berman—“176 trips to over 59 foreign countries”—including some trips paid for by private sponsors, on which Berman family members occasionally accompanied the congressman. “Berman does not report the free travel for his family members as income on his taxes as required by law,” the statement charged.
The Berman campaign declined to comment on the charge.
Local media were less than impressed with the Berman’s broadside that initiated the exchange.
“It wasn’t exactly a bunker buster,” yawned L.A. Observed political columnist Bill Boyarsky. The Jewish Journal’s Jonah Lowenfeld ho-hummed Berman’s attack. He noted that earlier in the campaign, Sherman had hammered Berman for billing taxpayers for $186,000 in car-leasing fees, which turned out to be Berman’s total car-leasing expenses over three decades in office. “But now it’s the Berman campaign that’s using its own deceptive numbers,” wrote Lowenfeld.
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Rex Weiner is a Brooklyn-born, third-generation journalist who from 1992 to 1997 covered the entertainment industry as a staff reporter for Daily Variety, where his column, Lost and Found, appeared weekly. His articles have appeared in Vanity Fair, the Los Angeles Times Sunday magazine, The New Yorker, The New York Observer and LA Weekly, and he contributes regularly to Rolling Stone Italia. His screenwriting credits include “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” (20th Century Fox), and he was one of the first writers of the TV series “Miami Vice.” He is a founding editor of High Times magazine and a co-author of The Woodstock Census (Viking, 1979), one of the key texts analyzing the impact of the ’60s generation on American society. He is currently based in Los Angeles and in the town of Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico, where his fluent Spanish and capacity for tequila come in handy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.