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.
"I have never financially contributed to a political campaign of anyone, anywhere, at any time," Barich said, adding that his cooperation led to the FPPC's findings.
Berman, Hardy and Guardino, who resigned as Cotati's mayor three days before reporting the violation, and Phil Maher, a political supporter of Barich's, said last year that Barich made the contribution.
Barich was recalled from the council in 2009 after a year in office, and this month lost a bid to reclaim his seat.
He remains under investigation by the FPPC on separate allegations of campaign finance violations in his 2004 and 2008 city council campaigns. He has said the allegations were politically motivated.
This week, he said, "I'm anxious to clear my good name."
In 2004, the FPPC fined SantaRosa civil engineer Richard Carlile $24,000 for violating conflict of interest laws while a city planning commissioner.
In 1998, former Santa Rosa Mayor Sharon Wright was fined $14,500 for 10 conflict of interest violations and Councilwoman Janet Condron was fined $3,000.
That year also, then-county Supervisor Tim Smith was fined $18,000 for failing to disclose how he spent his campaign donations.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: November 18, 2010:
The original version of this story incorrectly reported the total fines levied in a case involving a 2006 Cotati political campaign and the amount levied on a resident, Robin Birdfeather. Fines of $29,000 were ordered. Birdfeather was fined $500.