Fines totaling $29,000 have been levied against five Cotati residents following an investigation into campaign finance violations that took place during a 2006 political campaign.
Former Cotati Mayor John Guardino and his campaign treasurer, Linell Hardy, were ordered to pay a total of $9,000 by the Fair Political Practices Commission. A campaign volunteer, Michelle Berman, was fined $15,000.
The FPPC said a $1,000 contribution by former councilman George Barich, which was over the legal limit, was channeled into Guardino's city council campaign in smaller amounts through three residents.
Two of them, Adrienne Lauby and Robin Birdfeather, received fines, with Laudy fined $4,500 and Birdfeather $500 for making contributions “on behalf of another person” to conceal the identity of the real donor.
A similar fine is being considered for a third resident, Tim Foley.
Berman's fine is the largest in recent years and together the fines amount to one of the largest penalties the FPPC has levied in Sonoma County.
The investigation into Guardino's campaign was launched in October 2009 after Hardy, a city planning commissioner, and Guardino reported the illegal contribution.
In a statement they issued Tuesday, Guardino and Hardy blamed Berman for the matter, saying she “intentionally deceived” Hardy by disguising it as a contribution from Lauby, Birdfeather and Tim Foley.
They said campaigns operated “in good faith” that volunteers obey campaign finance laws, noting that they investigated the matter themselves once it came to light, and then reported the violation.
Berman and Lauby did not return calls seeking comment.
But in November 2009, Berman said she alone was at fault and attributed her actions to “a big mistake in judgement.”
The FPPC said Berman “caused” the illegal reporting.
Despite the FPPC's conclusion, Barich, who said he cooperated with state investigators, maintains he did not make the contribution in question.