Capitol Alert

Ami Bera encouraged family to give to Democrats supporting him

Congressman Ami Bera meets with Editorial Board members at the Sacramento Bee on Wednesday, June 1, 2016. Bera said that he was unaware of the illegal donations that his father helped make to his campaign.
Congressman Ami Bera meets with Editorial Board members at the Sacramento Bee on Wednesday, June 1, 2016. Bera said that he was unaware of the illegal donations that his father helped make to his campaign. hamezcua@sacbee.com

Democratic Rep. Ami Bera said Wednesday that a complex series of campaign donations involving his parents and the families of other Democrats often were arranged by the candidates themselves.

The Bee last month reported that Bera and his family, beginning six years ago, wrote large checks to other Democrats, and that those candidates or their families gave similar amounts to Bera, with the contributions often occurring within days of one another. Campaign finance experts said the contributions generally do not violate federal law, but are a way to avoid individual donation limits.

Speaking with The Sacramento Bee editorial board, Bera for the first time answered questions about the practice.

Bera said he periodically asked his wife, mother and father to contribute to Democrats running in competitive contests, but that similar donations from those candidates and their relatives didn’t constitute “reimbursements.”

He said that in some cases the contributions may also have been initiated by the candidates’ families or their campaign staffs.

“I don’t know if the families were talking to each other, or if the campaigns may have been talking at times. ... Their finance person talking to our finance person,” he said.

The congressman’s campaign has repeatedly stressed that the donations differ from the legal troubles of his 83-year-old father, Babulal “Bob” Bera, who is awaiting sentencing on two felony counts of election fraud. Bera and federal prosecutors have said he and his staff were unaware of his father’s illegal reimbursements to his son’s donors.

Bera also was asked whether his father may have been confused by the back-and-forth donations into thinking it would be legal for him to reimburse donors who gave to his son’s campaign.

Bera answered using one of the other Democratic congressmen, Scott Peters of San Diego, and his family, as an example.

“I don’t actually even know that (Babulal Bera) knew Scott Peters was donating to my campaign,” Bera said. “Because I would just be asking ‘Would you consider supporting these candidates?’ 

Bera is running for re-election against Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones. Dave Gilliard, Jones’ campaign strategist, said the congressman’s description of his role makes it more difficult to believe he wasn’t aware of his father’s illegal activities.

“It certainly is an extremely sophisticated donor-swapping scheme, and Ami Bera just admitted that he coordinated it at the candidate level, which raises the question – his father just pleaded guilty to campaign money laundering,” Gilliard said. “It’s just not believable that Ami was not involved in every aspect of the fundraising that his family was doing for him.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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