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Jewish Journal

Two super PACS set to support Howard Berman campaign

by Jonah Lowenfeld

November 11, 2011 | 4:41 pm

Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys)

At his fundraiser at the Beverly Hilton on Nov. 10, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) announced that his campaign had raised $1.6 million that evening.

The number, however, did not include additional money that has been flowing into at least two Independent Expenditure Committees established to help Berman win his battle against fellow Democratic incumbent congressman Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks). Berman and Sherman are both hoping to be reelected in 2012, this time in the 30th Congressional district newly redrawn by California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission.

In an interview with The Journal at the Berman fundraiser, California State Senator Alex Padilla confirmed that he has made phone calls to Berman supporters in recent weeks asking for contributions to an Independent Expenditure Committee called Rebuilding America.

Independent Expenditure Committees, often referred to as Super PACs, first appeared as fundraising tools in the 2010 election, after the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling and subsequent applications of that ruling in lower courts radically reshaped campaign finance law. These political action committees, which officially must not be coordinate their actions with candidates or political parties, can raise unlimited sums of money from individuals or corporations, and use those funds to independently support or oppose a particular candidate.

“I’ll do whatever needs to be done to ensure his [Berman’s] reelection next year,” Padilla said, noting that Rebuilding America had already received some contributions and was “gearing up” to make its first independent expenditures to help Berman tell his story to new constituents.

According to Federal Election Commission filings obtained by The Journal, Padilla’s Super PAC was officially established in September. Ackley Padilla, brother of the state senator, is listed as the group’s treasurer.

Unlike the Valley-Israel Alliance, another Super PAC that the Los Angeles Times revealed is exclusively supporting Berman’s candidacy, Rebuilding America is officially registered as supporting or opposing more than one Federal candidate.

The Berman-Sherman contest was precipitated by the recent redistricting process, and the formation of Rebuilding America is best understood in that context. When the statewide redistricting commission re-worked the San Fernando Valley’s congressional districts, it created a new Latino-majority district in the East San Fernando Valley, now the 29th district, which is directly adjacent to the new 30th district being sought by Berman and Sherman.

Before it became clear that neither Berman nor Sherman would cede the 30th, which consists of parts of each of their two previously separate districts, the two were each hoping the other might move to vie for another district. For Berman, the hope was that Sherman would move his campaign westward into the 26th district, which includes large segments of Ventura County. Sherman, meanwhile, hoped that Berman would move his candidacy into the new 29th district in the East San Fernando Valley.

Neither one gave in, however, and, in September, Berman endorsed the candidacy of Latino Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas who is running in the 29th district. In what could be seen as political payback, Cardenas came to the Berman fundraiser on Thursday evening.

Alex Padilla, who has also endorsed Cardenas, acknowledged at the event that for Berman, the race in the new 30th district will entail “telling the Howard Berman story to new constituents of his, or to constituents of his that have been longtime constituents.” Berman will have to do this quickly—almost 60 percent of the new district has been represented for the last 10 years by Sherman. And that telling requires money.

Which is where the Rebuilding America Super PAC comes in.

“I think his [Berman’s] record speaks for itself, that he’s absolutely the most qualified congressman to represent that [30th] district,” Padilla said. “His campaign will do its job, but I want to make sure that we leave no stone unturned in terms of reaching out to anybody and everybody in the new congressional district, so that they know what Howard Berman has done and will continue to do. His effectiveness as a legislator, I think, is second to none.”

According to Richard L. Hasen, an expert in election law at the University of California, Irvine, law school, the introduction of a Super PAC specifically organized to support a single congressional candidate, like the Valley-Israel Alliance, is unprecedented. However, the work Padilla is doing on behalf of Berman’s campaign through Rebuilding America is “hardly unique,” Hasen said.

“The person who is running one of the main Rick Perry Super PACs is his most trusted ally,” Hasen said, referring to the Texas governor and Presidential hopeful. “It is a situation where the Super PACs are legal, in the sense that they are not running afoul of any rules of the Federal Elections Commission, but those rules as interpreted by the courts allow for everything short of the candidate coordinating the Super PAC’s message.”

Some observers have estimated that Berman and Sherman could wind up spending upwards of $12 million in this intra-party battle, which should make it the most expensive congressional race in history.

“Howard usually raises all of his money for his campaign at this dinner, and that’s usually what he needs,” Howard Welinsky said in an interview with The Journal on Nov. 10 before the fundraiser.

Welinsky is chairman of the Democrats for Israel and a longtime Berman supporter; according to Federal Elections Commission filings, both Welinsky and his wife, Karren Ganstwig, each made contributions of $5,000 to Berman’s campaign in September, the maximum amount an individual can contribute to a political campaign.

But with the advent of Super PACs, Welinsky and others who have maxed out their contributions directly to Berman’s campaign would be able to continue to pay toward the Congressman’s reelection effort by donating to the independent Super PACs.

Welinsky said he had recently received fundraising calls from both Alex Padilla and the organizers of the Valley-Israel Alliance, but would not say whether he had contributed to the groups.

He did express some concern about what the development of such groups might mean for the tenor of the race between Berman and Sherman.

“Independent expenditure committees as frequently go negative against the opponent as they go positive for the candidate they’re supporting,” Welinsky said.

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